In a new research paper by transportation engineers at North Carolina State University, a new approach is proposed to significantly improve travel time through intersections and reduce fuel consumption. This „white light” concept enables autonomous vehicles to control traffic flow while informing human drivers on what they are supposed to do.

White Phase: A New Traffic Light Concept

The „white light” concept works by allowing autonomous vehicles (AVs) to communicate wirelessly with each other and the computer that controls the traffic signal. When enough AVs are approaching the intersection, the white light will activate, which is a signal for AVs to coordinate their movement and facilitate traffic flow more efficiently.

For non-automated vehicles, the white light means to simply follow the car in front of them. If the car in front of them stops, they stop. If the car in front of them goes through the intersection, they go through the intersection. However, if too many vehicles are controlled by drivers, the traffic light will revert back to the conventional green-yellow-red signal pattern.

„The white phase concept taps into the computing power of autonomous vehicles themselves, and it incorporates a new traffic signal so that human drivers know what they are supposed to do,” says Ali Hajbabaie, corresponding author of the paper. „Red lights will still mean stop. Green lights will still mean go. And white lights will tell human drivers to simply follow the car in front of them.”

White Phase: Improved Intersection Flow

The researchers improved on the initial white phase concept, which relied on a centralized computing approach. In the new concept, the computing resources of all AVs are utilized, dictating the traffic flow. This approach is both more efficient and less likely to fail in communication with the traffic light.

To test the performance of the new approach, the researchers used microscopic traffic simulators to replicate real-world traffic. These simulations showed that AVs improve traffic flow, and the higher the percentage of AVs at a white phase intersection, the faster the traffic moves through the intersection and the better the fuel consumption numbers.

The researchers found that even if only 10% of the vehicles at a white phase intersection are autonomous, there are still fewer delays. For example, when 10% of vehicles are autonomous, delays are reduced by 3%. When 30% of vehicles are autonomous, delays are reduced by 10.7%.

Moving Forward with White Phase

The researchers acknowledge that AVs and governments may not be ready to adopt the new approach immediately. However, there are various elements of the white phase concept that could be adopted with minor modifications to both intersections and existing AVs. For example, a pilot project could be implemented in high-volume commercial vehicle traffic locations, such as ports, which seem to have higher rates of autonomous vehicle adoption.

In conclusion, the white light concept improves intersection flow and reduces fuel consumption, making it a promising approach for the future of autonomous vehicle transportation.

However, the adoption of white light technology also faces some challenges, such as the high cost of retrofitting existing infrastructure, the need for widespread education and awareness to drivers and pedestrians about its usage, and the potential for cybersecurity threats. These challenges must be addressed for the widespread adoption of white light technology in autonomous vehicles.

In addition, the technology is still in its early stages and requires further research and development to fully realize its potential. This includes testing and refining the technology in real-world conditions, as well as developing standardization and regulation to ensure interoperability and safety.

Despite these challenges, the benefits of the white light concept, including increased safety and efficiency, make it a promising avenue for the future of autonomous vehicle transportation. By overcoming the obstacles to adoption, the white light concept has the potential to revolutionize the way autonomous vehicles interact with their environment and each other.

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