Being stuck at a red light is, frankly, annoying, but Audi has just debuted a new Traffic Light Information (TLI) technology that can at least help take some of the edge off by letting you know how long it will be until that light turns green.
In partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, Audi's TLI is the first time vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication tech has been added to a production car, and it's already available on the market. The connectivity behind the tech is the fruit of a long relationship between Audi and Nevada -- which is rapidly becoming a sort of hotbed of connected car and autonomous vehicle technology development.
I was recently able to hit the Las Vegas strip in a shiny new 2017 Audi A4 sedan to see TLI in action.
Traffic Light Information
The Traffic Light Information feature appears in the vehicle as a countdown timer that appears in the Audi Virtual Cockpit and in the head-up displays when appropriate. So as I approach a connected intersection with a red traffic light, the TLI icon and a countdown to green timer appear to let me know how long I've got until it's time to go again.
Using the 4G LTE connection for Audi Connect that's already present in the A4, Traffic Light Information utilizes real-time traffic light timing data -- pulled directly from the very same traffic management center that sets the timing of all of the traffic lights in the region -- and combines that with GPS data so the A4 can calculate exactly which traffic light I'm approaching, whether that light is red or green, and how long until it changes.
Armed with this information, I can decide whether I need to stay alert and ready to go because the light will change in just a few seconds or if I've got time to fiddle with the radio, attend to a child in the back seat or do anything other than stare at the traffic light, willing it to change. With the longer lights taking up to two minutes to change, knowing that I had time for these micro-breaks in my attention at the very least made my wait a little less stressful.
The timers disappear from the Virtual Cockpit and HUD at the four-second mark, which is my cue to look away from the displays and direct my attention to the road ahead.
The vehicle also can calculate whether I'll make it through an intersection based on how fast I'm moving. The TLI counter appears if, at my current speed, the light will be red when I arrive. If the light will be green, nothing happens. This let me know I could lift from the throttle and coast to a stop earlier to save a bit of fuel on a light I was going to miss anyway.
The Traffic Light Information system doesn't always display by design. Behind the scenes, Audi's and the TMC's servers are quietly vetting their confidence in each light and the system only displays information that meets a certain confidence level. So if an emergency vehicle passes and resets the timing of an intersection, TLI may not display info for a few cycles.
The Las Vegas connection
Just before hopping behind the wheel, I was able to visit the Regional Transportation Commission's traffic management nerve center in Las Vegas, NV. Here all of the region's traffic data and some 1,300 traffic lights are monitored by people and computer systems. It's like NASA's mission control, but for highways and intersections. The Southern Nevada RTC is now the first local government to connect its traffic monitoring center directly to vehicles via this Traffic Light Information partnership with Audi.
What the municipalities such as the RTC gain out of the partnership is anonymized vehicle data pulled in real time, directly from the cars that use the service, granting it more precise traffic flow data, particularly on surface roads which are a bit of a blind spot in the current monitoring techniques. Better traffic data allows the RTC to better time its traffic lights to meet the demands of traffic, which hopefully means that drivers will spend less time stuck at red lights watching the Traffic Light Information countdown. Seems win-win to me.
TLI is a useful convenience feature, but now that the V2I connection is in vehicles and the communication standards are on the way to being established, there's potential for so much more.
Navigation routing and arrival time estimates could be made better and more accurate thanks to better more accurate, lower latency traffic and traffic light data from local services.
One day, an update could be pushed through Audi Connect that displays speed suggestions in the HUD to help drivers time a series of lights. Something like "keep a steady 35 mph and you'll make the next five lights" would be very useful for getting around quicker and saving fuel. Speaking of saving fuel, the data could also enhance the stop-start engine technology, perhaps shutting the engine down when idling at a long stop and firing up again a few seconds before the light turns green.
Maybe the coolest part is that Traffic Light Information is now available on new 2017 A4 (including the Allroad) and Q7 models. V2I isn't a future technology anymore and the future is sort of here already. Odds are good that if you bought an A4 or Q7 in the last few months, the service is being pushed to your car via Audi Connect's 4G LTE connection right now.
But don't rush out to your garage just yet unless you live in Las Vegas. For now, the new feature only works in areas covered by the Regional Traffic Commission of Southern Nevada partnership. However, Audi tells us that more cities and regional traffic monitoring centers in the US and Europe are in talks to adopt the V2I standards and are sure to be soon added to Traffic Light Information's coverage area.
Additionally, the technology will be added to future Audi vehicles including the upcoming A5 and Q5 models early next year.