Ford, Vandebilt self-drive team tackle Fourth of July gridlocks

Ford, Vandebilt self-drive team tackle Fourth of July gridlocks

Ford and Vanderbilt University reveal how adaptive cruise control can minimise the problem of phantom traffic jams.

With a record number of Americans gearing up to get away for their Fourth of July holidays, self-driving car technology could help make the annual road trip a little less ‘stop and go’ on the freeway.

One of the frustrations of motorway driving throughout the world is the ‘phantom traffic jam’ – sudden queues of slow-moving cars, which eventually clear. These can be caused simply by one driver hitting the brakes too sharply, or too soon. His actions may cause all other drivers to slow to a crawl behind him as the effect ripples back through a long line of traffic.

Now car giant Ford has teamed up with Vanderbilt University to show how the use of adaptive cruise control could cut these types of traffic problems to a minimum, simply by having the car control accelerating and braking on the freeway itself.

Researchers carried out what they believe is the largest, most realistic demonstration of its kind, showing how existing technology could help minimise phantom jams.

On a closed test track owned by Ford, 36 drivers simulated normal highway traffic using adaptive cruise control, which can automatically slow down and speed up to keep pace with the car in front, without the driver getting fatigued or distracted. Those drivers then drove the same course without the technology activated – meaning they had to brake and accelerate themselves.

Commercially available self-driving technology

The team found that vehicles using adaptive cruise control reduced the impact of sudden braking more than those without the technology activated. Even with just one in three vehicles using adaptive cruise control, the test yielded similar results.

“A fun Fourth of July family road trip can quickly become irritating when traffic slows to a crawl – especially once you learn there was no reason for the gridlock,” said Michael Kane, supervisor at Ford Co-Pilot360 Technology.

“We encourage Ford owners who have adaptive cruise control to use it during their summer travels in the hope that this smart technology today can be that first step to help ease commutes.”

Daniel Work, civil engineering professor at Vanderbilt University, said that traffic researchers and engineers have been looking to smart vehicle technologies to reduce congestion, whether that’s vehicles that talk to each other, or vehicles that can predict conditions on the road ahead.

“This demonstration was a unique opportunity to understand how commercially available, active driver-assist technologies can be used to positively influence traffic flow,” he added.

Plus: Ford partners with China’s Baidu

In related news, Ford China and Baidu inked an agreement last week to make the driving experience smarter in China, via in-car and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity, artificial intelligence, and digital marketing.

The deal will include a new in-vehicle system and services that are based on Baidu’s DuerOS Ai platform, part of the Apollo platform, in which Ford is a founding member. Duer includes voice recognition, natural language understanding, and image recognition technologies.

In addition, the two companies will establish a joint connectivity lab to investigate innovation opportunities across their automotive and mobility businesses in the country, according to a joint announcement.

Additional reporting: Chris Middleton.

Internet of Business says

The focus of driver-assistance and autonomous technologies has long been on safety and saving lives. In itself, that’s a noble aim, with over 1.2 million lives lost on the roads every year in traditional motoring.

However, in these early years of self-drive systems, the safety message can easily get lost when lives are lost as a direct or indirect result of driverless technologies – even if comparatively few people have died compared with human error.

The Ford and Vanderbilt research suggests that some companies should consider shifting their message to ‘driving smarter’, as much as driving more safely, especially when it comes to driver assistance systems.

Recent research has revealed that trust in self-driving technologies has fallen dramatically this year, in the wake of the Uber and Tesla accidents. Stories like this help to change the conversation, and refocus car owners on the benefits of increased automation.