Cars Talking With Traffic Lights: How Can it Affect Your Commute?

Vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) service
Vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) service | Source: Audi

As the race to bring the world’s first truly autonomous vehicle to the masses heats up with both the feasible (Tesla Model S) and the outlandish (Rinspeed’s sci-fi inspired ?tos sports car), Audi has decided to take a different approach to solving traffic issues. By working with Traffic Technology Services (TTS), the German-based nameplate plans to launch something called “V2I Technology” in the fall of 2016, and it could potentially change the way we see traffic lights forever.

Audi’s complex signal-to-vehicle communication system will first become available on select 2017 Audi Q7, A4, and A4 allroad models that were built after June 1 of 2016. According to Audi’s official press release on the subject, this on-board traffic light timer will be offered exclusively as an Audi connect PRIME feature, and is intended to make these vehicles fully connected to traffic lights in select smart cities and metropolitan areas across America.

Scott Keogh, President of Audi of America, explains the reasoning: “Continuous innovation in connected car services and advanced driver assistance systems that enrich and improve the customer experience is at the core of the Audi brand and [is a part of] our collective future.”

This means that connected Audi cars will receive real-time signal information from the advanced traffic management systems that monitor traffic lights, which has the potential of becoming a pivotal step toward smarter commuting. Audi’s invention is tailor-made for the majority of modern day luxury drivers too, partially because no one likes being stuck at a stoplight, but also because sales for the luxury brand remain strong, despite the whole Dieselgate fiasco (the VW brand hasn’t been so lucky). It’s also likely that a lot of recent buyers already have this feature installed on their cars and don’t even know it, which makes for a fun mental image when you imagine the countdowns suddenly popping up one autumn morning and drivers frantically try to figure out what the hell is happening.

Traffic lights
Traffic lights | Source: Audi

Once accustomed to this new addition, drivers that are stopped at a connected traffic light can easily remain up-to-date in two ways: They can either glance at the driver information system within the instrument cluster, or over at the heads-up-display on equipped cars in order to gauge how much time remains until the signal changes to green. Unlike autonomous driving, the system that Audi looks to put in place offers a more informative approach to driving than a hands-off experience, and with a fall launch date looming, we’re excited to see what cities get this option first.

While it may not sound like a major game changing innovation to some, the potential this technology holds for vehicular connectivity down the line is quite exciting; it could potentially change the way traffic flows in America’s largest urban sprawls. Granted, it will take quite a while for this kind of infrastructure to reach most cities, as well as become embedded in most automobiles, but you have to start somewhere and you had better believe the government is watching intently.

Google Maps
Google Maps | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Pom Malhotra, General Manager for Connected Vehicles, elaborated a bit on what all this means for urban environments in years to come. “In the future we could envision this technology integrated into vehicle navigation, start/stop functionality, and can even be used to help improve traffic flow in municipalities. These improvements could lead to better overall efficiency and shorter commuting times.”

This development is the latest in a long line of groundbreaking connected car innovations to come out of Audi, which started with the introduction of broadband enabled vehicles in 2010. Four years later, in 2014, Audi was the first automaker to offer 4G/LTE Broadband connectivity, thus solidifying the importance of having both partnerships with reliable service providers and an infotainment setup that allows continuous adaptation and connectivity.

Audi Q7
Audi Q7 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

While knowing how much longer you have at a light is a welcome addition to any commuter’s daily routine, it’s the forthcoming tech advancements for other automakers and urban engineers that have our interest. Once this preliminary design bears fruit, and the bugs are worked out, more and more cities should begin to adopt this form of communicative infrastructure, and that is when everyone will likely get their fair share of traffic light autonomy.

Cities will be able to track traffic flows based on the signals shared between connected vehicles and the grid, as well as with one another, giving officials the ability to reroute, quickly change light patterns, and warn drivers of sudden dangers and delays. Once paired with self-driving systems like the one found on the Delphi Audi SQ5 that autonomously drove from San Francisco to New York City last year, problems like congestion and intersection accidents will be a thing of the past.

Another benefit to this technology that will likely make an impact on car buying decisions is its affordability. While opting for an Audi will be the only way to gauge lights in the immediate future, it’s just a matter of time until all cars come equipped with driving aids like these in order to cut down on commute times and unnecessary accidents.

It is worth reiterating that Audi owners must first have Connect PRIME services installed on one of the aforementioned vehicles to enjoy this new feature, and the automaker warns that this service may require an additional subscription with separate terms and conditions. But being that this is a luxury auto manufacturer, with an affluent collective of dedicated buyers, we bet that few will be griping over the addition of one extra service fee in favor of knowing when you get to kick it into Sport Mode again.