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Computers may control intersections for self-driving cars

Joab Jackson | Feb. 20, 2012
While scientists have been busy with making more accurate self-driving cars, at least one set of researchers has thought even further ahead and developed a smart intersection that can manage crossing flows of autonomous vehicles.

A traffic manager could have all sorts of secondary benefits as well. It could ensure that approaching emergency response vehicles can get through as quickly as possible. It could also participate in citywide traffic-shaping efforts, which could help reduce congestion overall. The intersection managers could execute dynamic lane reversals, where the number of lanes for either direction would fluctuate in response to traffic needs.

Stone admits that such a system would not be totally fail-safe. There is always the possibility, for instance, of a car breaking down in the middle of the intersection, where it might be hit by another car that can't stop in time. But overall, he argued, autonomous vehicles would still be safer at intersections than regular cars, citing the statistic that 90 percent of all auto accidents are caused by human error.

"The current system is already not fail-safe. We can prove that as long as all the cars follow the protocol we defined, then there will not be accidents. You can't say that about human drivers," Stone said.


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