Autonomous intersection management
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Artificial intelligence research is ushering in an era of sophisticated, mass-market transportation technology. While computers can fly a passenger jet better than a human pilot, people still face the dangerous yet tedious task of driving. Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the field focused on integrating information technology with vehicles and transportation infrastructure. Recent advances in ITS point to a future in which vehicles handle the vast majority of the driving task. Once autonomous vehicles become popular, interactions amongst multiple vehicles will be possible. Current methods of vehicle coordination will be outdated. The bottleneck for efficiency will no longer be drivers, but the mechanism by which those drivers' actions are coordinated. Current methods for controlling traffic cannot exploit the superior capabilities of autonomous vehicles. This thesis describes a novel approach to managing autonomous vehicles at intersections that decreases the amount of time vehicles spend waiting. Drivers and intersections in this mechanism are treated as autonomous agents in a multiagent system. In this system, agents use a new approach built around a detailed communication protocol, which is also a contribution of the thesis. In simulation, I demonstrate that this mechanism can significantly outperform current intersection control technology-traffic signals and stop signs. This thesis makes several contributions beyond the mechanism and protocol. First, it contains a distributed, peer-to-peer version of the protocol for low-traffic intersections. Without any requirement of specialized infrastructure at the intersection, such a system would be inexpensive and easy to deploy at intersections which do not currently require a traffic signal. Second, it presents an analysis of the mechanism's safety, including ways to mitigate some failure modes. Third, it describes a custom simulator, written for this work, which will be made publicly available following the publication of the thesis. Fourth, it explains how the mechanism is "backward-compatible" so that human drivers can use it alongside autonomous vehicles. Fifth, it explores the implications of using the mechanism at multiple proximal intersections. The mechanism, along with all available modes of operation, is implemented and tested in simulation, and I present experimental results that strongly attest to the efficacy of this approach.