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Relax and Leave the Driving to Your Car

Photo by Wyatt McSpadden, courtesy University of Texas
Peter Stone sits shotgun as his automated car does the driving.

Could rush hour gridlock turn into relaxation time for Texas drivers?

University of Texas researcher Peter Stone and his fellow project members at UT’s Autonomous Intersection Management (AIM) project have been receiving attention with a provocative concept: creating “smart” intersections linked to intelligent autos that will enable cars to drive themselves. Stone’s research was recently presented at a meeting of the American Association for Advancement of Science.

Stone is no stranger to automotive technology; five years ago, he was part of a team that responded to a development challenge from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create a vehicle that could pilot itself. “Since then, in 2007, we’ve had a car which can drive itself,” Stone says.

However, while advances in automotive technology continue, Stone and the AIM initiative came to realize that without a coordination system, management of driverless cars could prove problematic. The solution? Intelligent intersections that can coordinate with vehicles, issuing “reservations” to individual autos on, say, which car’s turn it is to go at a four-way stop. And what will this look like? “A somewhat chaotic flow of driverless, autonomous cars slipping past one another as they are managed by a virtual traffic controller,” as this UT press release describes it, and can be seen in the computer modeling in the video embedded below.  

Smart intersections will also contribute to additional traffic modernizations, Stone says, like “dynamic lane reversal, ” another focus of AIM’s research. This describes the reversal of a one-way street during peak commute times to add additional capacity – something that could be confusing to human drivers, but more readily managed by computer-piloted cars.

But Stone is still quick to tout the human impact of the technological change. “The vision is that eventually people will be in the backseat working on their iPad, reading the newspaper, texting away, no problems,” he says. “The car may not even need a driver’s seat, eventually.”

KUT will have more on-air with Stone and Autonomous Intersection Management tomorrow morning.