‘Ants’ go marching on to optimize traffic lights

Tiny and industrious, ants are models of teamwork and efficiency. The picnic-wrecking insects could also teach city planners a thing or two about how to optimize the timing of traffic signals, according to students at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). For their final project in “Advanced Optimization” (AM 221), taught by Yaron Singer, assistant professor of computer science, applied math concentrators Robert Chen, A.B. ’17, and Alex Wang, A.B. ’17, used a heuristic technique called “ant colony optimization” (ACO) to find the most efficient time settings for traffic signals on a grid of city streets. “Efficiently controlling traffic light cycles could have major benefits for the public, since people spend more and more time sitting in traffic,” Wang said. “Optimization could reduce wait…


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