Sanjay Goel is an Associate Professor in the Information Technology Management Department at University at Albany, SUNY. Title of Talk: Self-Organizing Traffic Lights
A car waits for a traffic signal to turn green when no other vehicles are at the crossroad. A vehicle traveling at the speed limit is forced to brake every half mile for a traffic light. A car arriving at a crossroad seconds earlier triggers a traffic signal stopping a large group of vehicles traveling on the main road. Commuters face such frustrations each day. Urban traffic is controlled collectively by the action of a large number of traffic lights that have inherent inefficiencies that cause needless delays at traffic intersections. Nature has provided ample evidence of how self-organization can effectively manage systems composed of a large number of components. Social insects such as honeybees and ants show remarkable order in their group behavior and are able to accomplish difficult tasks that would be impossible for a single insect to perform. They accomplish this without central control to govern their behavior. This work attempts to use self-organization techniques for managing traffic where the traffic flow results from the action of a large number of traffic signals. Historically, traffic signals operated independently either through a fixed timing pattern or through adaptive control based on sensors. Both of these techniques lead to suboptimum results. Recently, there have been attempts at optimizing traffic signals centrally, which works for a few intersections, but is not scalable over large grids. We are attempting to use self-organization to create a robust scalable system that will minimize traffic delays and consequent driver frustration. Initial results show some success and there is considerable promise as it continues to be refined.