Robot AI Parking Rangers Are Being Used To Prevent Traffic Chaos

It’s not yet Robocop – but it is a step closer.

Autonomous robots which can play soccer could be the solution to solving an age-old traffic problem.

The artificial intelligence that keeps the bots moving is being trialled as a new way to keep clearways in Sydney moving.

The system works by teaching a machine to analyse historical traffic data and then learn how to identify when a car is causing a problem.

“It’s a system that would automatically detect that a vehicle blocking a clearway based on traffic data,” said developer Jayen Ashar, the lead engineer at Clearway Tech.

Clearways areas could be enforced by robots, under a new plan. Photo: Getty

The system would use machine learning -- "specifically supervised learning", he said -- to learn the patterns from historical data and then apply those to traffic in the future. For instance, after analysing the traffic, the system would contact the NSW Transport Management Centre, asking for a tow-truck to be dispatched to remove a parked or broken-down car causing a hold-up.

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“It’s finding the patterns when a vehicle is blocking a clearway," Ashar said.

So how do the soccer robots come in?

Ashar has been a member of the University of NSW’s autonomous robot soccer team for more than a decade, and said he applied some theory from the football field to traffic problems.

“For robots that can play soccer, there’s a lot of machine learning involved," he said.

“They are fully autonomous, there’s no remote control during the game, so they have to be able to see the ball, figure out where they are on the field, learn to walk and all those things.”

The data will come from sensors attached to the existing Sydney Coordinated Adaptive Traffic System, which already registers vehicle movements at traffic lights.

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“These sensors are so dynamic that they’re able to, through predictive analytics, tell us what’s happening in the clearways and at the same time make sure we’re putting the resources in to keep the traffic flowing,” NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said.

Photo: Getty

Since 2013, the NSW Government has installed nearly 630km of clearways to cope with increasing vehicle numbers.

There is a $263 fine for those caught parked in a clearway, and if a tow truck reaches the vehicle before a driver moves their car, there’s an extra $205 tow-away charge.

“You can block an entire lane and the banking up of traffic behind is incredibly frustrating for all,” Constance said.

With so many clearways to choose from, the technology is being trialled on a two kilometre stretch in a tow-away hotspot in Chippendale's Wattle Street, in the heart of Sydney. Over the past 17 months, more than 1000 vehicles have been towed away.

Photo: Getty

Sedan drivers were the worst offenders with 577 towed away, followed by station wagons (177) and panel vans (153).

The majority of offenders were caught by police, but the State Government believes artificial intelligence may soon change that.

“There is no doubt we’re going to see more of this technology being applied in the future, predicting what’s going to happen, so we can in advance keep our traffic moving.”