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Car and Driver: When Will Traffic Lights Turn Green? Some Audi Cars Now Know


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traffic signal, V2I, vehicle to infrastructure

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Connected cars, meet the smarter city.

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Audi is offering drivers a glimpse of what can happen when vehicles communicate with traffic infrastructure. Executives with the German car brand said Monday they are introducing a feature on select 2017 models that will inform drivers when traffic signals will turn from red to green.

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When motorists are waiting at a traffic light, information displayed in the vehicle’s instrument cluster—and, in some cases, on the head-up display—will count down the time remaining until a signal turns. The feature will be available on the 2017 Audi Q7, A4, and Allroad starting this fall.

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It works via an onboard LTE data connection that receives real-time information from servers managed by Traffic Technology Services, a private company. TTS partners with government agencies and private vendors that work under contract for municipalities to harness signal data at select locations around the country.

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These improvements could lead to better overall efficiency and shorter commuting times.
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Audi’s traffic-light information system is one of the first features available to mainstream drivers that uses vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology. Many industry executives believe V2I eventually will deliver real-time information on road conditions, traffic flow, and more. Audi says the new system is the first step in exploring the potential of V2I technology and is likely to be a springboard toward more ambitious uses.

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“In the future, we could envision this technology integrated into vehicle navigation and [engine] stop-start functionality, and it could even be used to help improve traffic flow in municipalities,” said Pom Malhotra, general manager for Audi’s connected vehicles division. “These improvements could lead to better overall efficiency and shorter commuting times.”

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The traffic-light system does not count all the way down to zero. Audi spokesperson Justin Goduto said the timer disappears once it reaches five seconds remaining. It’s designed that way, he explained, so drivers’ attention will be focused on the signal change and the broader traffic environment, not on an indicator in the car.

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Audi has been developing those features, at least in part, at a testing ground in Somerville, Massachusetts. Audi’s Urban Future Initiative is examining the use of V2I to improve traffic flow by 20 to 50 percent through better signal management and eventually through pairing with automated driving systems.

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Automakers are not alone in thinking about how cars will interact with infrastructure in the future. Across the country, government officials and urban planners are thinking about how cities can collect and share data that will improve the overall transportation system. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation enshrined Columbus, Ohio, as the first U.S. “Smart City.” Columbus received $40 million from the DOT to help plan for an autonomous- and connected-car future.

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BMW launched a similar feature last year. The company’s EnLighten app provides information on traffic-light status, and an audio alert notifies drivers about pending changes in signals they are approaching. One main difference between the two systems is that BMW’s relies on an app running on an iPhone connected to the car, whereas Audi’s uses a vehicle-embedded LTE connection.

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There are limitations. The feature is available as part of the Audi Connect PRIME package, which provides enhanced navigation functions such as Google Street View and real-time traffic information, at a cost of $199 for a six-month subscription. Cities also need to be properly equipped with the right traffic-signal technology to communicate with the cars. Audi says the traffic-signal system will be available in “select cities and metropolitan areas,” with further information to be made available in the next few months.

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