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

To Charge or Not To Charge
Gao and Peh designed RoadRunner as a possible alternative to a congestion-pricing scheme such as the one Singapore currently uses. By routing cars away from areas where congestion is likely to halt the smooth flow of traffic, they reason, a city would not need to charge drivers for entering controlled areas—unless a driver were to disregard the directive to turn away from that area and thereby commit a infraction.

However, RoadRunner could be deployed such that in order to be issued a token for entry into a controlled area, a driver would need to pay a fee (or have a fee deducted from his or her account).

Urban planners might find this option more appealing than deploying RoadRunner without fees. After all, congestion pricing is seen as a powerful disincentive to driving private vehicles, as well as an incentive for utilizing public transit. This shift can produce environmental and productivity benefits, but RoadRunner was not designed with these goals in mind.

"RoadRunner creates a disincentive to driving on certain roads [at certain times], but it is not a disincentive to driving, in general," Gao says. He and his colleagues have not studied what impact RoadRunner, if used across an entire city in lieu of congestion pricing, would have on carbon emissions.

Ultimately, however, people might not even be making their own decisions about what route to take through cities. One day, the RoadRunner application (or others like it) could be used to link autonomous cars with potential riders, via their smartphones. Under this scenario, a person could stand on a street corner and hail a car using the app and keying in a destination. A car would then arrive to pick up that individual, communicating with other vehicles to determine the best route. No driver—or car ownership—would be necessary.

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