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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Traffic Lights: Harnessing Distributed Control Intelligence


Modern urban traffic light control systems control thousands of traffic signals, but their core algorithms are based on first principles developed in the early 1980s. In many cases therefore they cannot reflect modern trade-offs between delays to different vehicle streams.

The Web enables users to experience issues from new standpoints, and researchers to understand how users respond in such situations, both individually and collectively. This project therefore will demonstrate proof-of-concept of a multiple ‘player’ interactive traffic simulation where road junctions are simultaneously and independently controlled by individuals in real time. Each individual is trying to get the best performance for their part of the system (their junction), but if they all work in isolation they will fail (traffic jams help nobody).

As the network systems become more complex, the organisation and communication between individuals begins to reflect the dynamics of Web communities of individuals (each with their own agenda) forming around a shared goal, developing methods of communicating, agreeing, disagreeing, falling apart, reassembling and learning as necessary towards achieving that goal.

Questions arise of who cooperates with who, what information they choose to exchange, whether these relationships persist or change dynamically over time, whether there develop competing factions/cartels within different parts of the system and the impact of these ‘social’ relationships between junction controllers on the overall performance of the system. By letting people interact, cooperate, compete and learn from their results, we will explore how they create a web of controllers and the interactions between them.


Principal Investigator: Dr Ben Waterson, Transport, FEE

Co-Investigator: Dr Gary Wills, ECS, FEPS


View the report.

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