Adaptive Cruise Control

Adaptive cruise control implemented in just one out of five cars could significantly improve highway safety and reduce traffic jams, according to a recent study by a University of Michigan physicist.

Scientists concluded more than a decade ago that cars behave like molecules in a gas. When cars ahead of you stop or slow down, it's like a compression pressure wave propagating back to you. It can last for hours, long after the original stimulus to slow down has been fixed (remember all those times you jammed on the brakes, and yet never got to the "problem" further down the road?). As many as three-quarters of traffic jams are like this.

Adaptive cruise control uses a radar sensor to gauge distance between vehicles, adjusting speed to maintain safe distance. With faster than human reaction times, they make tailgating safer. And ACC can reduce the problem of "compression wave" slowdowns, since ACC does not just slam on the brakes. Computer simulations show that if only one car in five had ACC, there would be far fewer traffic jams.

For the sf view on smart vehicles, see the entry for Camden Speedster from Robert Heinlein's 1958 novel Methuselah's Children. For more on the story, see A few computer-controlled cars can help traffic; thanks to Techdirt for the story.

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