Traffic Protocol — A Way to Reduce Pollution.

Image Source: https://www.frotcom.com/blog/2020/05/inrix-research-2019-global-traffic-scorecard-reveals-worlds-most-congested-cities

As a teenager living in Delhi, there are two main issues that plague me in my everyday life: the abysmal air quality and traffic congestion. These problems affect the entire population of the city who breathe its air and commute from one place to another. Traffic congestion has become an increasingly expensive problem for all of India with enormous increases in travel demand. The impact of this problem has been estimated at $22 billion for just four major cities in India [1]. This issue has directly correlated with the air quality woes, with multiple studies indicating that transport carries around 25% of the blame for this [2]. Air quality is a much-discussed problem around the country and there are studies that attempt to measure the cost of this externality with some experts settling on a cost of 6% GDP for Delhi alone [3][4].

This is a problem that is universal to everyone who breathes the air of these polluted cities and has to endure the hours of traffic to get anything done. For me specifically, I found myself thinking about this a couple of years ago during Diwali. The week of Diwali, often touted as a victory of light over dark, funnily enough, leaves my country shrouded in darkness. I spend hours in my car on the way to my aunt's place every year to “give” Diwali. What is supposed to be an event of love, joy, and happiness becomes a stressful affair. The weeks after, the skies are grey, and I can smell the smoke in the air. Although I understood that was an issue specific to a week in the year, why were the skies still grey and why is the air just different here? After some research, I realized that the inefficiency of traffic and congestion of roads was a major reason for this. My health, on a physical and an emotional level, is affected by this. And this is not just me, these are issues that affect most of India. I came to the realization that maybe these two issues could be solved together, and I am on a quest to solve this problem.

The solution to these twofold issues can be boiled down to solving traffic congestion. My proposal to solve this problem is based on establishing traffic protocols with autonomous vehicles that can increase fuel-efficiency of the average car on the road and increase the average speed of traffic, allowing the reduction of commute time. There is evidence to show that established traffic protocols for intersections and multiple lanes increased average speeds of vehicles by 300% and reduced average fuel usage by 40% [5]. These algorithms are based on research work done at Flow under UC Berkeley which has been published (cited [5]). To explain the idea simply, traffic congestion and extra fuel usage are caused by the non-uniform speed of traffic which could happen for a multitude of reasons such as the lane capacity, intersections, non-precise braking, etc. The algorithms Flow is modeling are open source and can be adapted for Indian traffic and the reward function of these algorithms, i.e. what the algorithm’s objective is, can be customized for fuel-efficiency or speed. So, if Delhi is experiencing bad air quality, you can optimize it for less fuel usage. If Bangalore has more of a traffic problem and air quality is fine, you can optimize it for speed. This is extremely valuable to society to combat the material costs of inefficiencies that everyone faces, and also the unquantifiable health and emotional stress caused by traffic.

[1] https://qz.com/india/1255427/traffic-jams-in-delhi-mumbai-bengaluru-and-kolkata-alone- cost-india-22-billion-a-year/

[2] https://urbanemissions.info/blog-pieces/whats-polluting-delhis-air/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7286556/

[4] https://energyandcleanair.org/revealing-the-cost-of-air-pollution-in-real-time/

[5] https://flow-project.github.io/papers/1710.05465.pdf

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