MIT Researchers Test Nascent Vehicle-to-Vehicle Communication Scheme

Congestion-smoothing experiment highlights opportunities for smartphone manufacturers, automakers and cities.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 16, 2014

Jason Gao, a Ph.D. student at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Li-Shiuan Peh, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and computer science, have an idea for eliminating gridlock. The two researchers hope to reduce traffic congestion by having cars communicate with each other via low-power, long-distance radios integrated into the drivers' mobile phones or embedded in their vehicles.

Gao and Peh recently tested their concept, dubbed RoadRunner, using software simulation, as well as a real-world test involving 10 vehicles in Cambridge, Mass. For the simulation, they used Electronic Road Pricing data supplied by Singapore's Land Transport Authority. For the live test, each driver was issued an Android phone running the RoadRunner application.

The interior of a test vehicle in Cambridge, showing one phone linked to the Cohda Wireless 802.11p radio and the second phone that was used only for vehicle-to-cloud communication.
With Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing system, every car owner is issued a transponder that is installed in his or her vehicle and associated with a debit account linked to a credit card. When a car enters a tollway, such as an arterial road or expressway, it passes under a reader mounted on an overhead gantry. This reader collects the transponder's unique identifier and then deducts the appropriate amount from the driver's account. This system is more dynamic than those used for convention road tolls because the rate a driver pays varies according to the time of day (it changes up to every half hour during peak driving times).

The fee system is primarily designed as a disincentive to drive on roads that are in high demand during the busiest periods of the day. This approach, called congestion pricing, is an increasingly popular tool to address the environmental, health and productivity problems associated with vehicular congestion. Most of these systems use RFID technology similar to that deployed in Singapore.

But Gao and Peh think there are two problems with this approach to congestion pricing. One difficulty is that it relies on erecting a costly, static reader infrastructure. The second is that although the prices change throughout the day, they are based on expected, rather than actual, demand. In other words, because a given stretch of road has historically been congested from 5:30 PM to 6:30 PM on weekdays, the fee for driving on that road might be its highest at that time, irrespective of the actual demand on any given day.

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