Tech could redefine 'car talk'

If the Federal Highway Administration’s research goes well, cars could control traffic signals one day.

The agency is exploring the use of in-car wireless technologies to manage traffic flow. Research concepts involve installing vehicle devices that would enable cars to communicate with the highway and other vehicles, according to a recent request for information.

Officials refer to the multiyear project as Vehicle Infrastructure Integration for Mobility.

The agency envisions cars that could transmit alerts to traffic lights about vehicle location and speed, forcing the lights to adapt to traffic demands. For instance, during rush hour, cars would inform a traffic signal to alter the intervals between light changes, agency officials said. The signal would then shorten the time the light is red and prolong the time it’s green to process cars more quickly. The idea is that by the time the car reaches the signal, the light would be green.

The roadways would also communicate with cars. Technologies built into the transportation infrastructure would send alerts, such as, “Please accelerate briskly. The traffic jam is ending,” “Stop tailgating,” “Slow down to match speed of traffic,” or “Caution – icy road ahead.” FHWA’s goal is to reduce congestion and gaps in traffic flow.

Other plans include customized speed limits. FHWA technologies would feed variable speed limits to cars when the vehicles pass through construction sites, school zones or bad weather.

Last summer, agency officials received comments from outside stakeholders through an RFI. They wanted feedback on the specific concepts and possible benefits, along with suggestions for evaluation methods.

FHWA received about 20 replies. University researchers, state transportation officials, transit authorities, a major automobile manufacturer and several information technology manufacturers commented.

Many suggested testing all the concepts simultaneously for more practical results. Some respondents also volunteered their facilities to be test sites.

FHWA will incorporate the comments into an updated work plan for the long-term initiative. Officials intend to publish a report on the concepts, benefits and deployment scenarios. The timeline for applying research results in production has yet to be determined, federal officials said.

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