UC Berkeley researchers behind world’s largest open road traffic experiment

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Congestion in the Bay Area prevents many of us from spending more time at home, and research finds that it’s largely to blame.

The world’s largest open-course road traffic experiment is now underway to test technology that could help drivers overcome handicaps.

Many drivers get frustrated after being stuck in traffic for a long time only to deal with it and make sure there was no accident or other obvious reason.

Specialists call it phantom traffic and it is caused by human behavior.

Now, researchers and students at the University of California, Berkeley, are developing software to automate cars that they hope will help reduce those traffic jams and even reduce energy consumption.

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“We tested them extensively in simulations, but the data we collect in the real world can definitely give us more insight,” said Arwa Al-Ankari, a second-year graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

UC Berkeley researchers and students were in Nashville this week helping to test it in the real world on an open road with 100 cars.

“Finally being able to see our algorithm in action on a real car and see the rate of change in real time is really cool,” said Kathy Jang, a student in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The research was led by the so-called CIRCLES consortium, and some well-known automakers were involved when AI-equipped cars hit the road.

“The vehicle will receive traffic data and with this we will make informed decisions about how the vehicle should accelerate or decelerate depending on the traffic it sees or does not see ahead,” said Maria Laura Delle Manache, Associate Professor with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.

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

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

Their goal with this larger, open-label trial is to see if this improvement persists.

It finally wrapped up on Friday, and while there’s still data to analyze from the week-long test and we’re still years away from rolling it 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 traffic in the Bay Area, and I want to help them achieve that.

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