Herds of robotic traffic cones could soon be swarming onto a highway, closing down lanes and slowing the traffic.
The new road markers have been developed by Shane Farritor, a roboticist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in a bid to help reduce the $100 billion per year that the Department of Transportation estimates is lost to the US economy through accidents and delays caused by highway lane closures.
The self-propelled markers take the form of robotic three-wheeled bases for the brightly coloured barrels that are set out to demarcate road repair zones. Farritor says they can open and close traffic lanes faster and more safely than humans.
The markers are delivered to the roadside by a specially equipped truck, from which an operator controls their deployment using a laptop computer. Each fleet of robots is made up of a lead robot or “shepherd”, which is equipped with a Global Positioning System satellite navigation receiver, plus a number of less expensive “dumb” units.