Multiagent Traffic Management: A Solution to Gridlock

by Tim O'Brien

Related link:

This isn't about computing as much as it is about cars. When I moved away from NY a few years back, one of the reasons was that I actually missed being able to drive around in a little upholstered living room on four wheels. That being said, I grew up with repeats of the Jetsons, and I'm ready for a future where fallable humans aren't piloting 3 tons of metal on a daily basis. I just don't trust us.

I stumbled upon this site a while back, and it has an interesting applet that simulates a new agent-based approach to managing traffic intersections. Check it out, you'll lose at least 10 minutes to this applet: Multiagent Traffic Management:
A Reservation-Based Intersection Control Mechanism

Play with that applet enough and you'll realize that the future of intersections doesn't include waiting for a light to change. It does include autonomous agents automatically reserving a time-slice of an intersection.....and, from what I can see, the intelligent future is full of terrifying near misses as tanker trucks wiz by my little semi-autonomous Toyota Camry "agent".

This won't happen in my lifetime, but after spending some time in Chicago traffic jams (13 miles in 100 minutes!), I have to say that the only way we're going to get ourselves out of urban traffic hell is through some sort of automated intelligent "routing" solution. From the looks of it it'll improve efficiency across the board; less time spent waiting for traffic and less fuel used idling at red lights. Sure there are huge obstacles to implementing something like this, but with a reliable, ubiquitous local wireless network technology and a set of standards, this could one day (2050) happen.

...BUT, I surely wouldn't want to be a beta tester. :-) The question it doesn't answer is how would one merge onto a road with a constant flow of traffic? The only way this technology would be practical is if I could also have my car autonomously merge onto a street with constant traffic.

Not sure if this would work? Not sure if you want to trust your life to your car?


2005-06-06 13:25:25
personal experience
I used to work for O'Reilly in their Sebastopol offices, and take Bodega Highway east from the redwoods out by the coast into Sebastopol by car every morning. At the intersection of Bodega Hwy and Main St, there are a pair of stoplights that more or less define the "center of town", and sure enough, there's a traffic jam in that sleepy hamlet of 7,500 people every morning at about 8:15-8:30 am.

Every morning, that is, except for the one back in 2001 when the rolling blackouts hit Sebastopol. The O'Reilly offices, which shared a grid segment with the hospital, was still up and running, but the traffic lights in the center of town were all dead. So drivers would pull up to the intersection, stop, wait for the other three cars to go, and then keep moving. And it worked. In three years of living in Sebastopol, I never once saw traffic move so smoothly through that double intersection as the morning that the traffic lights went dead.