Autonomous vehicles could interact with traffic signals by indicating their position and adapting their speed.
This could improve the flow of traffic and reduce fuel and energy consumption.
The light would let drivers know if they can follow the autonomous vehicle in front.
Researchers at North Carolina State University have proposed adding a fourth light colour to traffic signals due to the expected arrival of fully autonomous vehicles.
Since autonomous vehicles are essentially computers on wheels, they are capable of communicating with each other and they can receive instructions directly, which could render traffic lights obsolete.
Indeed, while driver assistance systems such as Tesla’s FSD currently have to interpret the colour of traffic signals with a camera, future technologies could make it possible for intersections to send signals directly to approaching vehicles.
This could allow autonomous vehicles to adapt their speed in advance to minimize the necessity to stop for other vehicles.
According to the researchers, using this system with a large proportion of autonomous vehicles has a positive impact on the flow of traffic and therefore fuel and energy consumption.
Since human drivers will continue to be the majority for many years, traditional traffic lights can’t be completely removed, which is where the new light comes into play.
This white light could be mounted next to the red-yellow-green signals to help drivers know what to do when most vehicles approaching an intersection are controlled by computers.
If lit, the white signal indicates drivers to follow the autonomous vehicle in front of them whether it stops or proceeds through the intersection.
Of course, if the majority of vehicles approaching the intersection are driven by humans, autonomous vehicles won’t be able to coordinate their movements and therefore, the white light will turn off and the regular traffic signals will take over.
The researchers responsible for the project say that implementing this technology now isn’t necessarily beneficial since the effects on the traffic flow are more noticeable when their proportion increases.
Nevertheless, they suggest creating pilot projects in industrial settings such as ports where automation is more prevalent in order to prepare for a future where autonomous vehicles are common on our roads.
Source: NC State University