We’ve have all been in one either as a driver or as a passenger a traffic jam. Sometimes they are caused by an accidents, but many times the cause seems to be a complete mystery. These are known as shock wave traffic jams and are often caused by drivers braking or slowing down causing a ripple effect behind them. Most of the time they clear out quickly but they create a wave-like an effect, traffic bunching up, than clearing out, then bunching up again.
Scientist had known about this phenomenon for quite a while, however finding a solution has been much more difficult. Changing people’s habits is never easy especially when they don’t think they are doing anything wrong. Someday we may have driverless cars like the one Google is testing, but until that day Honda is trying something different.
Honda is trying a system that encourages drivers to change their habits by a system of color codes. Honda hopes to use these color codes to help the driver drive more smoothly. This will help cars behind it from bunching up. At this time the system is single car only, but they do hope to link it to the cloud so cars can talk to each other. Right now in initial test the average speed increased 13 percent and fuel savings by 5 percent. This system will also help to prevent a lot of fender benders. They plan to do further testing in Italy and Indonesia before they release the system commercially.
The biggest trouble with this system remains the human dimension, after all the system will only work if the driver follows the suggestions. Right now the system is set up so that the benefit for the drivers behind the person using the system. The more cars the system is installed in and the more people follow the suggestions the better traffic will flow.
If you’ve driven at all you’ve probably been in a traffic jam at least once in your life. If you live in the Northeast or around any major metropolitan area such as Chicago, Dallas, or Los Angeles you may feel like you are in one almost daily. Sometimes there is a visible cause such as a car accident or roadwork, but other times a traffic jam seems to appear for apparently no reason at all. Scientist and engineer have been studying this phenomenon for years. In 2007 ScienceDaily published an article explain how this can easily happen using a truck switching lane and therefore cause the traffic behind them to slow down below a critical speed. The traffic around the incident clears and moves forward however the problem rolls back like a wave creating the traffic jam. There is a good graphical representation of this at SmartMotorist
So Scientist have known what happens in a traffic jam for awhile, the question is how can they be prevented. There are three types of traffic flow. Free flow, where traffic is flowing at the maximum speed allowed. Synchronized flow where because of the traffic density the vehicles move at a slower but still constant speed. Finally there are jams where speed drops to zero when traffic density reaches a certain unknown threshold. So how do you prevent the third circumstances. One possible solution is to have vehicles to talk to each other through an automated system. If you have been in a traffic jam you will quickly recognize that most people have one of two reactions the first are the defensive drivers who leave more space between them and the vehicle in front of them then necessary. The second group are offensive driver, the kind that drive up so close behind you that you can see the spinach they had for diner. What you want is for vehicles entering the traffic jam zone to act more defensively and enter the problem zone slower and those in front to leave the jam quickly causing the traffic jam to dissolve. What is the best way to do this, one possible solution is to have cars talk to each other. They could share their speed and position to the cars around them. As cars in front of them slow down this would hopefully convince the cars coming up to the area to slow down also. Meantime the cars in front of the congested area would leave faster, keeping the flow going. This is the idea that is discussed in a Technology Review article published by MIT.
There are of course several problems that need to be resolved for this to work. First is security you want to make sure you have a system that can’t be hacked. Second at this point it is unclear how many cars need to have a system installed for it to be effective. Also systems that are manufactured by different companies need to be able talk to each other. Finally people have to actually use the information that they are provided in the way they are suppose to. As more and more cars enter our highways both in the United States and around the world developing technology like this becomes increasingly important. This type of technology is still in its infancy, but if it becomes reality, it will have far more impact on productivity and the economy, then any social network.