Ningbo deploys robot lane changers to ease travel rush ahead of Lunar New Year

In anticipation of a surge in traffic, Lubu Toll Plaza managers put scores of autonomous robots in place, each the size of a large traffic cone and connected with guardrails.

Mobile robots have been deployed on arteries in Ningbo of eastern Zhejiang Province to ease traffic ahead of the annual Lunar New Year travel rush, Chinese media reported today.

At the Lubu Toll Plaza, a transit hub connecting metropolitan Ningbo, Yuyao and Cixi — two prefecture-level cities governed by Ningbo — a column of automated lane changers are now tasked with regulating vehicle traffic.

The volume of cars that pass through the toll gates at Lubu could reach 31,000 on an average weekday.

Traffic tends to spike in advance of and toward the end of the seven-day Lunar New Year holiday.

This is when hundreds of millions of Chinese are on the move to head home for family reunion and then hit the road back to cities for work.

This year the holiday runs from Januarty 10 through 17.

In anticipation of a surge in traffic, Lubu Toll Plaza managers put scores of autonomous robots in place, each the size of a large traffic cone and connected with guardrails.

They come with smart sirens and solar cells to generate the electricity required.

At the request of human operators, these devices can move in unison to designated spots, widening or narrowing lanes depending on traffic.

Efficient and safer

Traditionally, toll road operators have to lay the cones themselves to create reversible lanes on the approach road to toll booths or even guide in person to direct traffic.

This practice has proven inefficient and hazardous to the personnel in question.

After robots are deployed at Lubu, it takes only two minutes to set aside a reversible lane, according to media reports.

Specifically, upon commands, the robots move on their own during morning rush hour toward the exit side of the toll gates, widening the access from three to four lanes.

During the evening peak hours, they appear on the side of the entrance, expanding the road from five to six lanes.

This way, the robots reduce congestion, operators were quoted as saying in media reports.

While in action, the robots’ built-in siren system play recorded verbal warnings and flash lights to alert motorists to steer clear of their trail of movement.

Since the introduction of these devices, the morning and evening commutes through Lubu came down by one to two hours per day.

Going forward, authorities told media that such innovations will be extended to other toll booths with heavy traffic across the nation.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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