Fully autonomous vehicles promise enormous gains in safety, efficiency, and economy for transportation. In previous work, the authors of this chapter have introduced a system for managing autonomous vehicles at intersections that is capable of handling more vehicles and causing fewer delays than modern- day mechanisms such as traffic lights and stop signs [Dresner & Stone 2005]. This system makes two assumptions about the problem domain: that special infrastructure is present at each intersection, and that vehicles do not experience catastrophic physical malfunctions. In this chapter, they explore two separate extensions to their original work, each of which relaxes one of these assumptions. They demonstrate that for certain types of intersections—namely those with moderate to low amounts of traffic—a completely decentralized, peer-to-peer intersection management system can reap many of the benefits of a centralized system without the need for special infrastructure at the intersection. In the second half of the chapter, they show that their previously proposed intersection control mechanism can dramatically mitigate the effects of catastrophic physical malfunctions in vehicles such that in addition to being more efficient, autonomous intersections will be far safer than traditional intersections are today.
Recent advances in technology have made it possible to construct a fully autonomous, computer-controlled vehicle capable of navigating a closed obstacle course. The DARPA Urban Challenge [DARPA 2007], at the forefront of this research, aims to create a full-sized driverless car capable of navigating alongside human drivers in heavy urban traffic. It is feasible that, in the near future, many vehicles will be controlled without direct human involvement. Our current traffic control mechanisms, designed for human drivers, will be upgraded to more efficient mechanisms, taking advantage of cutting-edge research in the field of Multiagent Systems (MAS).
Intersections are one aspect of traffic control that are particularly compelling multiagent systems. Often a source of great frustration for drivers, intersections represent both a sensitive point of failure as well as a major bottleneck in automobile travel. While fully autonomous open-road driving was demonstrated over ten years ago, events such as the DARPA Urban Challenge prove that city driving, including intersections, still pose substantial difficulty to AI and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) researchers.