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Anybody who has spent a lazy summer afternoon as a child watching the constant movement of ants in their parents' garden will know that, no matter how congested the entrance to the nest may be, ants never have traffic jams.
Now a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States has confirmed that the same applies to bees and termites - and he says he knows why.
According to a report in technology magazine Gizmag, telecommunications specialist Ozan Tonguz has discovered that, in the insect world, when two traffic flows meet, the larger group always gives right of way to the smaller group.
And he reckons the same should be happening on our city streets.
Given that wireless communication between individual cars and the systems that govern the timing of traffic lights is already a reality, Tonguz took the technology one step further with what he calls a virtual traffic lights system, which counts the number of signals (i.e. moving vehicles) coming from each direction and gives right of way to the larger group.
Once the larger group has gone through, the smaller group gets the green light
The Gizmag report says the system has been in development since 2009, and computer simulations have shown that it shortens commuting times by 40-60 percent, with a corresponding improvement in both carbon dioxide emissions and driver frustration levels (which, under certain circumstances, can be the same thing).
SMOOTHER TRAFFIC FLOW
The research has now been funded to the tune of $2 million (R17.5 million) and a spin-off company has been formed to build a working prototype system.
And the best part is, if it works as smoothly as the computer simulations suggest, the average commuter won't even notice it in operation; they'll just get home more quickly, with less stop-start driving along the way.
Ask any ant.