Can AI Solve Inconvenient Traffic Jams?

If you’ve ever driven a car, truck, motorcycle, or anything else on wheels in the city, you’ve gotten stuck in traffic. And it’s the worst. But new technology may have found a way to reduce the headache. Researchers at Aston University in the U.K. have developed an artificial intelligence traffic light system that relies on live camera footage to make adjustments and keep traffic flowing. The system utilizes deep reinforcement learning, which means it understands when it’s doing a lousy job and it varies its actions to gradually improve. The researchers said this method improved upon the manually designed phase transitions that are often used for traffic lights. To test the system, the researchers built a traffic simulator called Traffic 3D (which sounds like a horrible video game) to train the program and prepare it for handling different traffic and weather scenarios. In reality, the traffic control system actually does function sort of like a game. Researchers said the program gets a “reward” when it gets a car through an intersection and if a car has to wait or there’s a traffic jam, there’s a negative reward. The researchers said they don’t supply any input, they “simply control the reward system,” which can be changed to allow for emergency vehicles to pass through. In subsequent real-world testing, the researchers said the system adapted well to real intersections. They hope to begin further testing the system on real roads this year.

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