Will traffic lights and gridlocked roads one day be relics of the past?

Researchers across the world are planning for such a future, thanks to self-driving vehicles.

Will traffic lights one day be irrelevant in our towns and cities? According to researchers such a future is possible, thanks to autonomous cars.

Driverless vehicles are being developed by a number of firms worldwide, including Google, Mercedes-Benz and Delphi. While we are now beginning to see the emergence of sensors, infotainment dashboard and cruise control, autonomous vehicles go beyond this idea and replace the driver with computer systems to reach A to B.

Google is one such advocate of such technology, having always claimed that autonomous vehicles are safer than human drivers.

However, safety is not the only issue at hand -- perhaps, if the arrival of autonomous vehicles on our roads is handled effectively, we could spend less time gridlocked in traffic, too.

Researchers from MIT, the Swiss Institute of Technology and the Italian National Research Council have been working on this concept and have come up with "Light Traffic," a new kind of intersection which would allow self-driving vehicles to storm through intersections without the need to wait.

As reported by Dezeen, Light Traffic uses sensors to communicate with self-driving cars and allocate an incoming car a space with a slot to pass when they reach the junction, keeping cars at a safe distance from each other as well as allowing for a seamless crossing.

The model has been designed to be flexible, including options for cyclists and pedestrians.

Carlo Ratti, director of the MIT Senseable City Lab commented in a press release:

"Traffic intersections are particularly complex spaces, because you have two flows of traffic competing for the same piece of real estate. But a slot-based system moves the focus from the traffic flow level to the vehicle level.

Ultimately, it's a much more efficient system, because vehicles will get to an intersection exactly when there is a slot available to them."

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The team believes that such a system would largely avoid 'stop and go' scenarios, which will also benefit the environment by reducing pollutants and fuel burn caused by acceleration and deceleration.

Overall, the researchers believe the flow of traffic through intersections could be doubled, improving traffic flow across cities.

Paolo Santi, a Research Scientist at the MIT Senseable City Lab and a member of the Italian National Research Council said:

"It is important that we start looking into the impact of self-driving vehicles at the city level as soon as possible. The lifetime of today's road infrastructure is many decades and it will certainly be impacted by the mobility disruptions brought in by new technologies."

Earlier this month, tech giant Google said that autonomous cars could give the US government the option to spend less on parking, road infrastructure and public transport.

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