Bay Area researchers behind world's largest open-track traffic experiment

Researchers hope the experiment conducted with AI software will help alleviate traffic jams and even reduce energy consumption.

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Saturday, November 19, 2022
Bay Area researchers behind traffic-changing tech tested on cars
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UC Berkeley researchers are pioneering a car automation software in hopes to help alleviate traffic jams and even reduce energy consumption.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Bay Area traffic congestion keeps so many of us from spending more time at home and research finds that most of it is our fault.

Now, the world's largest open-track traffic experiment is being done to test technology that may help drivers overcome shortcomings.

Many drivers get frustrated after being stuck in congestion for an extended amount of time only to clear it and see that there was no accident or other obvious cause of it.

Experts call it a phantom traffic jam and it's caused by human behavior.

Now, researchers and students from UC Berkeley are pioneering a car automation software that hopes to help alleviate those traffic jams and even reduce energy consumption.

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"We've been testing them extensively in simulation, but data that we collect in real world can definitely give us more insights," said Arwa AlAnqary, a second year PhD student at UC Berkeley's Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer science.

This week the UC Berkeley researchers and students have been in Nashville helping to test it in the real world on the open road with 100 cars.

"Finally being able to see our algorithm run on a real car and see the speed of change in real time. Truly remarkable," said Kathy Jang, a student with UC Berkeley's Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The research has been led by what's called the CIRCLES Consortium and some big-name automakers have been on board as the cars equipped with artificial intelligence hit the road.

"The vehicle will receive data about traffic and with that, we will make informed decisions on how the vehicle should speed up or slow down according to the congestion that it sees or is not seeing ahead," said Maria Laura Delle Monache, an assistant professor with UC Berkeley's Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

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Before this large-scale test, 20 cars were tested on a closed track with only one car that had the automation system.

They found that that one car of the 20 alleviated the stop-and-go pattern that causes congestion and changed the driving behavior of the other 20 cars.

Their goal with this larger scale open track test is to see if that improvement can hold.

It finally wrapped on Friday and while there's still data to be analyzed from the week-long test and we're still many years from rolling this out, researchers say things continue to go well and they're working hard to help their community.

"My friends know what I'm researching," Jang said, "They have high hopes for me to reduce the traffic in the Bay Area and I want to help them achieve that.

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