The traffic light's nearly 150-year run—which predates motor vehicles by about 30 years, since they were also used for horse carriages—may be coming to an end thanks to autonomous cars.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Swiss Institute of Technology, and the Italian National Research Council recently published a study suggesting that a new system that would allow autonomous cars to safely navigate intersections without any driver input may be in our future.
Instead, their plan is for cars to communicate with each other and with a central control system that's actually embedded in the surrounding infrastructure.
As the video indicates, self-driving vehicles could get through an intersection much quicker if they communicated with one another instead of relying traffic lights. Not only are drivers slower to react to traffic lights, most intersections are simply set to timers based on often outdated traffic data.
If you've ever waited at a light for several minutes while watching no cars pass by you on the road you're hoping to cross—and you probably did that at least once today—you'll understand how the American, Swiss, and Italian solution may point toward a more efficient future.
However, one thing not addressed in great detail is just how such infrastructure would handle cars not equipped with autonomous technology as well as cyclists and pedestrians.