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In the Near Future, Your Car Will Do the Driving

Paving the way for self-driving cars

Intersections of the future will not need stop lights or stop signs, says computer scientist Peter Stone. Instead, intersections will look like a chaotic flow of driverless, autonomous cars slipping past one another as they are managed by a virtual traffic controller.

“A future where sitting in the backseat of the car reading our newspaper while it drives us effortlessly through city streets and intersections is not that far away,” says Stone.

Stone’s research focuses on creating artificially intelligent (AI) computing systems, and he is developing some of the systems that are needed to make autonomous driving a reality. For example, he and his students created an autonomous car, named Marvin, in cooperation with Austin Robot Technology that competed in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge competition.

“Computers can already fly a passenger jet much like a trained human pilot, but people still face the dangerous task of driving automobiles,” he says. “Vehicles are being developed that will be able to handle most of the driving tasks themselves. But once autonomous vehicles become popular, we need to coordinate those vehicles on the streets.”

To that end, Stone is developing virtual intersection systems that will make auto travel safer and faster.

In his newest system, virtual AI driver agents (the autonomous vehicles) “call ahead” and reserve space and a time at an intersection. Then an arbiter agent, called an “intersection manager,” approves the request, and the vehicles move through. This all happens very fast, and there is little stopped traffic.

For now, the action takes place mainly as a simulation on a computer, or with a single real car (for example, Marvin) interacting with many other simulated cars. But Stone says the day is near when we’ll start seeing autonomous vehicles on the streets, and the benefits of controlling the cars – and traffic – will be realized.

Learn more about the intersections of the future here!

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