July 27, 2021

How to order the circulation of autonomous cars? The birds give the solution | Trends

How to order the circulation of autonomous cars? The birds give the solution | Trends

Now they are the exception. In Europe, even, they are something unprecedented. We may not see it, but experts and futurologists agree that, in the future,The drivers will be exception. And the question is, how are the rules of behavior set so that the cars unfold in traffic and take us to our destination.

Damián Roca Marí is one of these scientists who believes that in the future the common standard will be vehicles without a driver. He is a 28-year-old Mallorcan PhD from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya who has dedicated a large part of his still relatively brief (but brilliant) professional career to providing a solution to this problem.

"Nobody wants two cars to collide. Nor if it is driven by a computer. I noticed how birds behave, "Roca explains to EL PAÍS RETINA," and I decided to put together concepts of biology that explain the organization of a flock of birds and typically engineering concepts such as hierarchical decomposition. "

And all this by adding proprietary technologies fog computing (a model in which data, processing and applications are concentrated in devices at the edge of the network, rather than in the cloud) and the Internet of Things (IoT). The result is what has been called the hierarchical Emergent Behavior (HEB) for the closest people). His work has made him worthy of a Computer Award awarded by the BBVA Foundation.

Basically, what Damian Roca points out is that the birds move by a simple set of rules that allow that in spite of traveling in large flocks they can carry out abrupt changes of rhythm instantly and in total coordination.

They use three main rules for this: fly close to your neighbors, do not collide with any member of the flock and copy the direction and speed of the nearest birds. These are the same rules that, grosso modo, Roca applied to his HEB system.

They are, however, the most basic. When defining the behavior of autonomous cars, Roca established more complex ones. There is, for example, the destination rule. You indicate to a car where you want it to go, and it is the rule that has to be met. He also established rules to optimize overtaking.

Thus, if the vehicle detects a slower vehicle, its tendency will be to move to the left, or to the right if it considers that it is the slowest vehicle and another one is faster, which establishes a set of speeds.

Of course, the traffic is not made up of a few cars. The circulation is an immense network in which the vehicles form nodes that, in turn, interact with each other. In this way, the first cars form what is called a car squad (in the paper original, Damian Roca uses the English word platoon). "This first platoon can be considered a first level emerging behavior. But we can create a second level, in which the unit is not an autonomous vehicle, but a platoon that will have to interact with other platoons.

At this second level, rules are once again applied to define their behavior. The three basic rules apply, but also others. Or caveats, such as the distance between platoons must be greater than the distance between each vehicle. This new set of rules also defines the behavior between different types of vehicles without a driver, such as a car squad and a drone.


Damián Roca has spent four years engaged in his doctoral thesis, for which he had support from the La Caixa Foundation. His work has the title that has the title Analysis and Simulation of Emergent Architectures for Internet of Things (analysis and simulation of Emerging Architectures for Internet of Things).

He spent the last year in San Francisco, working on an exchange in a startup (Starflow Networks). Now he is working and IoT Labs and is a co-founder of "something" (according to his Linkedin profile, related to Personal Data Banking).

Less traffic jams

The automatic behavior of birds can also explain why these traffic jams occur, which, for no apparent reason, are constantly provoked by humans. If there are enough cars on a highway, any minor interruption in the flow of traffic tends to cause a chain reaction that feeds back: a car brakes slightly, and those immediately behind it brake a little more to avoid hitting it.

This braking chain with delay slows down until a wave of braked or stopped traffic occurs. "Autonomous cars are obviously affected by this wave effect," explains Roca. However, they react with lower latency, which causes smoother transitions between each unit.


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