Pathways is an algorithm that alleviates surge traffic, such as traffic created after a sporting event or in an evacuation scenario. After hearing accounts of extreme traffic as Floridians escaped Hurricane Irma, we realized that we could exploit hidden inefficiencies in the network of roads to alleviate traffic.

What it does

We assume control of all of the cars, in a self-driving car future or in an emergency situation, and define a circumference from the epicenter of the surge traffic beyond which the traffic is approximately equal to normal conditions. Our goal is to maximize the flow of cars across this surface, and use graph theory to model the road network. We use a maximized flow algorithm to determine the highest quantity of cars that can travel a road without increasing the time to travel that road, and route cars dynamically in deference to this principle.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We used real map data to present ourselves with a challenge that we'd really need a good program to address. We worked towards a real solution to a problem that is certain to arise as more and more cars' routes come from a centralized source. We got to apply our mathematical intuitions of flow and divergence to a problem that we felt was really cool.

Most importantly, we set out to work on math at a hackathon, and we did -- and the hours were long and brutal, but we still had a great time working on it!

What's next for Pathways

Pathways could be used to distribute directions to people who are evacuating an area; due to our limited time, we couldn't account for some human errors that would occur, but the principle is still the same.

It's also very possible that this could be implemented by companies like Lyft or Uber that could eliminate the prisoner's dilemma by employing their drivers. Though Pathways was designed for an ideal road with ideal robotic cars, it can operate on any directional graph with travelers on it.

It's also not a huge leap to apply Pathways to the random Saturday-afternoon traffic jam of upstaters driving an hour or two to head into New York City. With more development, Pathways could help drivers avoid this kind of surge traffic by responding in real time to their requests for travel, and recognizing when too many people were about to take the same road. It could then place a number of drivers on the back routes and get the average driver to their destination more quickly.

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