Please, Tell Us More!

Rui Meireles performs research in the area of vehicular wireless networks. He is joining the Department of Computer Science as an Assistant Professor this Fall./ Courtesy of Rui Meireles

Forty thousand people died on U.S. roads last year. On top of that, traffic congestion cost the country a total of around $1 billion in delays and wasted fuel. You’d think people would be up in arms about this but you’d be wrong. We’ve grown accustomed. We just consider it part of the price of admission.

I am very excited for an emerging technology that aims to change this reality: vehicular networks.

Vehicular networks wirelessly connect vehicles amongst themselves and with roadside infrastructure. Applications are almost endless.

In terms of safety, consider a scenario where vehicles periodically broadcast their velocity vectors and, when conflicting trajectories are detected, accident prevention mechanisms are automatically triggered. And, in the unlikely event that an accident still somehow happens, emergency services are contacted immediately, and given all the details of the crash so they can better respond to it. In terms of efficiency, imagine a world where stop signs have been eradicated and traffic lights are not physical entities but virtual projections on the windshield. Their state is determined not by a fixed schedule but by the number of vehicles present in each road leading to the intersection, yielding much improved traffic flow and reduced fuel consumption (and associated pollution). Need to park? Forget about driving around aimlessly looking for a spot. Just send a wireless probe and find one in milliseconds.

Vehicular networks also enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the emerging technology of autonomous vehicles. Nowadays, autonomous driving is limited to using sensors mounted on the vehicle itself. But if autonomous vehicles become interconnected, they can share information and reduce equivocation rates, improving the overall system. Vehicles will be able to form platoons on the highway, consisting of multiple cars traveling close together as a “virtual train.” This improves not only traffic flow but also the aerodynamics of the group, leading to lower fuel consumption and emissions.

Overcoming the challenges associated with the realization of this vision is the main driver for my research. Can we make communication reliable enough to enable coordinated multi-vehicle maneuvering? Can we make it scalable enough to coordinate between hundreds of vehicles in a busy intersection? So many questions. So little time.

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