Block pioneers work on macroscopic traffic model

Posted: March 3, 2023

In the Columbus area, the average person wastes 50 hours waiting in traffic per year. To solve this problem, there are currently two models being used: a microscopic one and a macroscopic one. Microscopic models let researchers easily capture the energy usage on one specific vehicle using the road load equation to calculate the forces acting on the vehicle, such as aerodynamic drag and rolling resistance, and then calculating the amount of energy needed to overcome these forces. However, they can be computationally expensive when modeling a large number of vehicles. Macroscopic models look at the bigger picture by describing the density and flow of all the cars on a section of highway. It’s this macroscopic model that mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate student Brian Block is working on. 

Currently, there is no way to calculate the energy expenditure using a macroscopic model. So, Block is taking the idea of the road load equation and other forces acting on a singular vehicle and applying it to a flow or density of vehicles. This is called a distributed energy equation. 

Block uses MATLAB software to simulates different traffic scenarios
Block uses MATLAB software to simulates different traffic scenarios.

Block’s model was developed in MATLAB. Using this software, Block simulates different traffic scenarios to see what the model does (how much energy the vehicles use, how much energy is used on a certain stretch of highway, etc.). Now that they can run these models, Block says the next step is learning how to control them. Applying control techniques will help reduce the energy consumption of vehicles, as well as reduce traffic jams. 

Block’s advisor, Assistant Professor Stephanie Stockar, says, “He has a great combination of technical skills and creativity. Brian is able to apply his knowledge to solve a theoretical limitation while always thinking about the connection with a real problem. His research has the potential to create a positive impact in the world by reducing energy usage with the transportation sector.” 

Ideally, vehicles would consume less energy. However, reducing the amount of time in traffic also helps reduce energy consumption because cars aren’t on the road for as much time. Block says, “Being an avid hiker and trail runner, I’ve always been interested in creating a more sustainable future, and this project is a great way to use my technical skills to accomplish that goal.” 

Written by CAR Writing Intern Cassie Forsha