MIT-bred technology would let cars help each other avoid traffic jams

The RoadRunner system would use virtual tokens and vehicle-to-vehicle wireless LANs

If you get stuck in traffic a lot, your next car may be able to talk to other vehicles and help keep you off jammed roads.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used virtual tokens, cellphones and vehicle-to-vehicle wireless LANs to build a system for allocating the limited space available on major thoroughfares. It doesn't require any physical infrastructure, such as tollbooths, so it could be implemented quickly almost anywhere, they said.

Instead of using cameras or electronic tollbooths by the roadway to detect cars passing a certain point, the MIT system, called RoadRunner, is based on GPS (Global Positioning System) information from the driver's cellphone in each car. As more cars get connected to the Internet, the system may be able to go into the car itself, according to Jason Gao, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science who developed the system with Professor Li-Shiuan Peh.

RoadRunner is designed to solve the problem of congested roads, with or without a government charging tolls for driving in crowded areas during rush hour. Once it detects that a particular route is crowded, RoadRunner generates driving directions to approaching cars that recommend a different way to go.

At the heart of RoadRunner is a limited set of tokens that the system assigns to vehicles within the affected area. When the road isn't crowded, every driver entering the zone receives a token, but as it fills up, later arrivals get the alternate driving directions instead. There's nothing to stop a car from crossing the line without a token, but that action could trigger a fine if law enforcement wanted to impose one.

The system doesn't track the precise location of each car. Instead, the server only registers whether a car is inside or outside the congestion zone and whether it has a token.

To speed up the sharing of tokens, RoadRunner takes advantage of IEEE 802.11p, a vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) variant of the technology behind Wi-Fi. Initially, a server generates the tokens and distributes them to cars via cellular, but after that, the cars can pass them directly to one another via 802.11p, Gao said in an email interview. The V2V network can transfer tokens faster because it has lower latency than cellular, and using it cuts down on cell traffic, Gao said.

IEEE 802.11p is starting to emerge as a key technology for self-driving vehicles and for semi-autonomous safety networks that may precede cars that drive all by themselves. Among other things, it's being used for proximity warning systems that let one vehicle tell another when it's entering an intersection. If two cars are approaching that intersection at full speed, such as at a blind intersection, the V2V network can send an alert that triggers alarms to the driver in each car.

RoadRunner might be an alternative to the congestion-control system in Singapore, one of the world's most advanced, which levies different tolls based on the amount of traffic on the stretch of road that a driver is entering. Singapore's current system uses gantries, or structures built over the roadway, that communicate with transponders in each car. That means the Land Transit Authority, which operates the system, can only regulate congestion where it's built a gantry.

By contrast, RoadRunner can be set up in any area, based on GPS coordinates, and can point drivers to alternative routes to help them avoid the congested area. Gao ran simulations with RoadRunner using data from the Land Transit Authority and estimated that it would increase average car speed by 7.7 percent during peak traffic periods, over what Singapore's current toll-based system achieves. Gao and Peh also tested RoadRunner on 10 cars in Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT's hometown.

One big step remaining for making RoadRunner a reality is implementation of 802.11p. For their real-world test in Cambridge, Gao and Peh equipped cars with commercial 802.11p radios, which are about the size of a typical dashboard transponder used for tollbooths, according to MIT. The driver's smartphone, equipped with a RoadRunner app, controlled those external radios. But Gao said 802.11p radios are already being built into some cars and he expects them to appear in smartphones, too. That would provide two different hardware platforms for using RoadRunner.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags AutomotiveNetworkingwirelessMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyWLANs / Wi-Fiindustry verticals

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?