Self-driving vehicles hold the potential to deliver a safer and more efficient era of transportation, but merely replacing human drivers with automated ones only takes progress so far.
Although autonomous vehicles are engineered to function largely without reliance on the outside world, there may be benefits unlocked — both for AV companies and society at large — by connecting the two. What if they acted not as lone rangers on the road, but as voluntary contributors to a larger traffic information network?
That's a question Argo AI sought to answer with a fellow Pittsburgh tech company, Rapid Flow Technologies, in a pilot project completed late last year. Findings were published this month, and they hint at what the future could hold.
On its own, Rapid Flow Technologies has deployed software on traffic lights to passively analyze vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic at intersections and adapt signals. That can reduce delays by as much as 20 percent and decrease travel times by 16 percent.
For city transportation officials who lack the funding and often the inclination to build new roads, the numbers hint at how cities can wring more efficiency from existing infrastructure without overly expensive additions.
That's today, with humans behind the wheel.
When self-driving vehicles reach the road in substantial numbers, the gains could be greater. Fifteen Argo vehicles in the Pittsburgh area provided Rapid Flow software with information on their whereabouts and intended routes during the project. Collectively, they reduced the time spent sitting at red lights by 40 percent, the companies said.
"That's a pretty powerful thing," said Pete Rander, president and co-founder of Argo AI, the self-driving tech company that works with Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen.