CONNECTED VEHICLES: MIT exploring smartphones as connected-vehicle facilitator

Experimental app regulates traffic via virtual tokens and alternate driving directions

September 19, 2014

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are taking a different approach to connected-vehicle technology, currently testing a smartphone app that uses GPS coordinates and a virtual token system to regulate traffic.

The RoadRunner program is facilitated through a smartphone app that transmits a vehicle’s GPS coordinates. The signal is picked up over a local area network (LAN), which is generated by a special transmitter inside test vehicles. During low-volume periods, RoadRunner issues a digital token to vehicles in a designated area. As traffic continues to build toward peak capacity, approaching drivers get alternate directions instead through the phone. Vehicles driving in the high-volume zone without a token can be issued a fine if local law enforcement chooses to do so.

The MIT team opted to use LAN for the RoadRunner program because tokens can be shared faster without clogging cellular networks. Tokens are initially generated by the system but can then be shared between drivers.

The primary advantage of RoadRunner is that it enables vehicle-to-vehicle communication without any additional roadway infrastructure. Comparing their system to a well-established congestion-control system in Singapore, researchers found that RoadRunner would increase the average speed of vehicles during peak traffic hours by 7.7%.

So far, RoadRunner has been tested on a 10-car system in Cambridge, Mass., equipped with commercial LAN radios. According to the research team, similar devices are already being built into vehicles, which would help streamline the system.