Continuing from my previous blog post on connected cars, the allure of the networked cars is too strong to resist for the Computer Networking engineer in me. Once the driverless cars are connected to the grid and are able to decide on an optimal route to take to reach a destination, the problem of getting the cars there becomes one that has been solved in the Internet Protocol (IP) routing world a few decades ago. While the Internet itself functions on the ability of the data to be split into “packets” that are transported from a source to a destination via routers that decide on the shortest path to take to reach the destination, it is a very real possibility to apply this thought to the world of traveling.
The road networks that exist today offer a ready made infrastructure for travel without drivers and with a reduced incidence of accidents. Smart cars, which would be connected to a GPS system and to the Internet could decide on the most optimal route to take to reach their destination. They would continuously keep in touch with data centers with real-time information on traffic patterns along the route. Traffic signals would behave like routers in the IP Networking world. Their primary responsibility would be to route the traffic from one direction to another based on the destination the car wants to reach. Traffic signals in a city would form part of a city network which would exchange routing information with each other and upload traffic congestion details to a server in real-time. Once a car reaches the signal, it is queued for routing, much like we wait for the signals to turn green on the roads today. The smart car would share its destination information with the traffic signal which would do its bit by suggesting an alternate route based on the shortest path algorithm that it would be running.
The similarities with the IP networking world are many and I am sure that there must be research on these lines underway in many companies across the world. Taking away the human element in driving and travel on the roads is by no means an impossible task and would ease a multitude of problems encountered in the cities today due to traffic snarls. Traffic congestion is a reality of the Internet world as much as it is of the travel on the roads today. There are intelligent methods already implemented to reduce congestion in the IP world which can easily be replicated by deploying the same routing protocols to the case of routing actual vehicular traffic.
Implementing such a system would need coordination between governments and private car companies with a combined vision of achieving road accident-free cities. Traffic monitoring centers would operate much like Network Operating Centers (NOCs). Again, the prototype exists already – it is about applying the learnings of one industry to another leading to new applications and innovations.
Ambulances being routed with preferential treatment – prioritized to reach their destination safely and on time, abolishment of manually operated toll booths resulting in reduced travel times and above all, the increased safety achieved by taking away the human element of rash driving or driving under the influence are all possible to achieve. The future is tangible, when do we see it?