Now, scientists have shown that a few self-driving cars can prevent such jams-and in some cases double the average speed of surrounding vehicles.
In others, one or several lanes of traffic merged, or the cars traversed a Manhattan-like city grid with traffic lights at each crossing.
The team looked at various ratios of self-driving cars mixed with regular cars that simulated typical human driving.
In the Manhattan scenario, the AI-controlled traffic lights instead of cars.
In the merge scenarios, replacing 10% of the regular cars with self-driving cars also increased overall traffic flow, in some cases doubling the average car speed.
The self-driving cars sped up traffic in part by keeping a buffer between themselves and the cars in front of them, forcing them to brake less often.
Giving the algorithm control over traffic lights in a Manhattan-style traffic grid increased the number of cars passing through by 7%. The tested algorithms leave plenty of room for improvement, says study author Eugene Vinitsky, an AI researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.
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