Audi’s Traffic light information system offers a first: the ability to tell you when the stoplight is going to change from red to green. This is a big thing for the impatient driver, but it’s an even bigger thing for the automotive industry. With the world’s only shipping example of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication (where the car exchanges data with a component of the highway system), Audi’s ushering in a new era of cars as data-driven mobility devices. The new feature, announced Monday, will be available on 2017 Q7, A4, and A4 allroad models built from June, 2016 onward.
Your car will know what the traffic light’s doing
Think about it: The Traffic light information system lets the car talk to the road. As your car nears a traffic light, it will receive real-time data about the signals at that location. Because the data can be complex, Audi says the car’s computer will decide whether it has enough information to know when the traffic light you’re sitting at will turn green. If so, it’ll display a countdown clock on the instrument cluster.
“A better-informed driver is a less-stressed driver,” said Pom Malhotra, Audi’s General Manager of Connectivity, during a briefing late last week. If you know you have 20 seconds before the light turns, you can grind your teeth—or you can take the time to speak to a passenger, or give your eyes and hands a quick break from their driving positions.
Malhotra said Audi tested the service on 100 cars for over a year. The company’s working closely with the agencies that manage the 300,000 or so traffic lights in the United States, and data provider Traffic Technology Solutions (TTS) of Portland, Oregon. TTS processes a constant stream of traffic signal status in real time and sends it to Audi’s own servers, which then send it to the car.
The infrastructure component of Traffic light information is the most complex part and will roll out gradually, in selected cities and metropolitan areas in the United States. Audi wouldn’t identify the locales in a briefing last week, but Malhotra projected that five to seven urban areas would be online by the end of 2016, with more coming in 2017.
The service won’t be free and won’t even be available on all Audi cars—just the three mentioned above for now. In addition, the drivers of eligible models must have purchased Audi’s Connect Prime infotainment package ($199 for 6 months or $750 for 30 months).
Lest you think this red-light counter will help you game the system, Audi’s Malhotra cautioned otherwise. “A few things were implemented that we think of as safeguards,” he said. Notably, the countdown will disappear several seconds before the light changes, theoretically forcing you to stop texting or chatting with passengers to look at the light yourself.
Audi promised that Traffic light information would be the first of many V2I features coming to its cars. The company wouldn’t commit to what the next one would be, but Malhotra suggested a few possibilities: using traffic data to make Audi’s stop-start system smarter, for instance, or to suggest the best speed to hit the most green lights. Tell us in the comments if there’s a V2I feature you’d love to see.
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Melissa Riofrio spent her formative journalistic years reviewing some of the biggest iron at PCWorld--desktops, laptops, storage, printers--and she continued to focus on hardware testing during stints at Computer Currents and CNET. Currently, in addition to leading PCWorld’s content direction, she covers productivity laptops and Chromebooks.
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