One of the potential ripple effects of the connected, and even driverless, car is the future of the traditional traffic light. The consensus seems to be that it doesn't have a very hopeful one.
Full adoption of the fully driverless car – say, everyone in America travels in cars that drive themselves in every situation – would make the old-school traffic light obsolete. Part of what makes these cars' autonomous is their ability to communicate with one another so they don't collide. In this scenario, driverless cars should theoretically be able to pass seamlessly through crowded intersections one-at-a-time without stopping to wait, saving both time and energy in the process.
However, for now at least, the fully driverless car still seems unrealistic. And even if it does become safe enough, it’ll be decades until it reaches enough users to justify removing traditional drivers' resources on the roads, like traffic lights.
See also: Google built its own self-driving car
For the time being, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University recently suggested an augmented reality display that recognizes when the cars are reaching crowded intersections, projects traffic signals onto the windshield that show which directions they can drive safely, and then disappears once they've returned to the open road.
According to a CNN report, the technology relies on connected car technology – which enables even cars without autonomous driving capabilities to communicate with one another, and which the U.S. government is expected to soon make mandatory in new cars – to coordinate all the cars that arrive at intersections around the same time and determine in what directions they can travel safely. If everyone on one side of an intersection is turning right, for example, the cars on the other side will be given a red light for left turns but a green light to turn right and travel straight ahead.
"Our solution leverages this capability," Carnegie Mellon University professor and contributor to the project Ozan Tonguz told CNN. "Since cars can talk to each other, we can manage the traffic control at intersections without infrastructure-based traffic lights."
This could mean less time spent on the roads, less fuel wasted while idling at intersections, and generally less frustrated drivers who just want the car in front of them to pick a lane already. Even in the pre-self-driving car age, which may last as long as another 25 years depending on who you ask, the connected car has potential to change the roads. While it's hard to imagine roads without traffic lights, it's much more exciting to imagine how much less time we could spend in the car without them.