Engineers are now calling for a fourth traffic signal light.

By Thom Taylor, Marco Trujillo; Edited by News Gate Team

When Detroit and New York added the yellow caution light in 1920, the traffic signal design became fixed. So our red, yellow, and green normal have worked for over 100 years. But now engineers at North Carolina State University think that’s not enough. They’re proposing a fourth light that is getting some intense consideration. Here’s why.

What happens when a fourth light is added to traffic lights?

Bumper-to-bumper traffic | Timothy Fadek/Bloomberg News© Provided by MotorBiscuit

A fourth “white” light is something that traffic engineers wish to install. They claim that with more light, both travel times and fuel usage will be reduced. Controlling traffic flow with autonomous vehicles is the key. The white light shows the traffic signal, which autonomous vehicles use to communicate.

The light indicates that AVs are modifying their light schedules to improve flow based on communication with nearby AVs. Drivers in front of AVs would imitate its actions. The driver of the vehicle stops if it does. The driver following the AV also passes through intersections when it travels through them.

Will this change what red, yellow, and green traffic lights mean?

Traffic light at sunrise | Gary Hershorn/Getty© Provided by MotorBiscuit

Related video: Scientists intend to put ‘traffic light’ system in space for satellites (Dailymotion)

The white light would turn off and drivers would resume observing the conventional red, yellow, and green lights as soon as more driver-controlled vehicles approached the signal. According to NC State associate professor of civil, construction, and environmental engineering Ali Hajbabaie, “this concept we are proposing for traffic crossings, which we call a “white phase,” taps into the computational capability of autonomous vehicles themselves. “The white phase design includes a new traffic signal as well, letting human drivers know what to do. Red lights continue to signal a stop. Green signals will still signal departure. Furthermore, white lights will instruct human drivers to merely follow the vehicle in front of them.

They call controlling traffic patterns “mobile control paradigm.” AVs coordinate traffic and the white light tells drivers what to do as they get near an intersection. “And, just to be clear, the color of the ‘white light’ doesn’t matter,” says Hajbabaie. “What’s important is that there be a signal that is clearly identifiable by drivers.”

How do engineers know this really works?

A massive traffic jam | Qamar Sibtain/The India Today Group via Getty© Provided by MotorBiscuit

Engineers set up computational traffic simulator models to test their hypotheses. They can determine the traffic flow for intersections with and without the white light from these testing. They discovered that AVs enhance traffic flow whether or not white light signals are present. But with the white light, more so Additionally, reduced stop-and-go traffic means better fuel efficiency. The more AVs there are at intersections, the better the traffic management. That being said, there are still fewer delays even if only 10% of the vehicles at a white phase crossing are autonomous, according to Hajbabaie. For instance, delays are decreased by 3% when 10% of vehicles are autonomous, and by 10.7% when 30% of vehicles are autonomous.

Right now, the only downside is that AVs aren’t ready for prime time. And some autonomous drive engineers suggest that we may never see a 100% driverless world. The paper is “White Phase Intersection Control Through Distributed Coordination: A Mobile Controller Paradigm in a Mixed Traffic Stream,” and is published in IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems.

By Thom Taylor, Marco Trujillo; Edited by News Gate Team

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