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A computer program that reserves slots at an intersection might be a way to ease gridlock and boost safety.

Computers can reserve your plane ticket, your hotel room and your restaurant table. Why not your place at an intersection?

The concept is simple: a computer in a car calls ahead to the nearest intersection it is headed towards, and says it will arrive at a given time. The intersection checks to see if anyone else is arriving then, and if the slot is open, it tells the car to proceed. If it isn't, it tells the car that and the car is responsible for slowing down or stopping.

That's the idea Peter Stone, an Associate professor of computer science at the University of Texas at Austin, is presenting at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Rather than trying to keep track of all the cars on the road, all the intersection's computer does is say whether there is a space for the next vehicle, given a list of time slots.

"It's a bit like reserving at a hotel room," Stone said. "When you call a hotel and say you are arriving Friday, they check to see if there is a room. They don't call up everyone else at the hotel and ask them to change their travel plans."

If there is no room, the traveler changes the arrival date or finds another hotel. The intersection would work in a similar fashion.

Cars are becoming more sophisticated, and there is already a lot of work being done networking cars (including at least one concept model from Ford). Integrating them with the traffic signals isn't a large step, and that could boost the efficiency of traffic, as well as safety...more