…unless you count the bumper-in-hedge feature of Mustangs at Cars And Coffee events

To keep them rolling down the road, autonomous cars need all kinds of technology to work together seamlessly. Radar, ultrasonic sensors, cameras, GPS navigation… all are essential to operation. And if you’re truly expecting to step into a sci-fi future filled with robo cars, go ahead and add vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) tech to the list. V2I is important because it provides insight into the kinds of stuff onboard sensors might not be able to pick up or handle, such as road conditions a mile ahead, heavy traffic management, and toll collection. But before the whole world goes fully autonomous, V2I still has huge potential to improve our daily motoring lives right now, and it looks like Audi is moving forward with the latest innovations for the modern consumer.

Recently unveiled in Las Vegas, Audi has introduced a new V2I feature that uses an onboard 4G LTE connection to interface with the city’s traffic management system and monitor real-time traffic light info.

Dubbed the “time-to-green” feature, the feature works like this – when a V2I-equipped car is stopped at a “connected” traffic light, the driver will be able to see a countdown of the time until the light turns green in the driver instrument cluster, or, if so equipped, the heads-up display. According to Audi, this info will “reduce stress and [allow] the driver to relax knowing approximately how much time remains before the changing of the light.”

Usually, I do the same thing by watching for the change to yellow in perpendicular lights, but granted, it’s not a foolproof system. Something that’s actually digitally connected to the lights would probably be a bit more accurate.

Anyway, Audi says “time-to-green” is the first feature of the Audi Traffic Light Information service V2I technology, with possible future uses including engine start/stop integration, navigation optimization, and “a speed recommendation designed to maximize the number of green lights one can make in a sequence.”

Traffic Light Information is a feature of Audi connect Prime, and will be incorporated in certain 2017 Audi A4, Q7, and allroad models produced after June 1, 2016. The service launches this month exclusively in Las Vegas, but it’s expected to see an expansion to other cities in the near future.

Continue reading for the full story.

Why It Matters

Think of V2I tech as a big eye in the sky watching over everything and making sure it all runs as smoothly as possible. The Traffic Light Information system is specifically designed to improve efficiency and to reduce traffic congestion, but V2I can also be used for safety and convenience. For example, if a roadway is iced over and dangerous to drive on, V2I could redirect traffic to an alternative, less slippery route, or maybe even call in some service vehicles to lay down the salt. Or maybe you’re in an EV and you need to re-juice your batteries, but the nearest charge point is overloaded with other EV’s, so the tech searches for an alternative with a free plug.

With possibilities like those listed above, Audi’s “time-to-green” feature might seem pretty basic, but hey, you gotta start somewhere, right? It’s kinda like the first cruise control before we get into autopilot mode. Further V2X (vehicle-to-everything) connections include V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle, such as communication between cars about where low-grip sections of tarmac might be located), V2P (vehicle-to-pedestrian, such as an alert that an inattentive texter is stepping into traffic), V2D (vehicle-to-device, such as an app that lets you remotely turn on the seat warmers), and V2G (vehicle-to-grid, such as connecting your EV to the electrical grid to charge up during off off-peak hours).

Audi has touted itself as an autonomous leader for years now, with recent media attention coming from the brand’s self-piloted journey between San Francisco and Las Vegas (560 miles) for CES 2015.

But when it comes to V2I, the folks pulling the strings behind the metropolitan curtain will need to get involved as well. As such, Las Vegas is gearing up to become the world’s first “smart city,” with the Four Rings collaborating with Traffic Technology Services to make the Traffic Light Information service work correctly. Back in August, Audi said Washington D.C. was another city slated for future integration of the tech.

Audi says it expects other big automakers to follow suit with similar features sometime in the future, but it’s smart to get the ball rolling now. After all, if broad adoption is the endgame, there’s gonna have to be some sort of standardization of systems here, and getting in on the ground floor could yield huge dividends.

But of course, there’s always a drawback. V2I could do a lot to improve our lives, but like any system, there’s a possibility it could get hacked. Whether it’s a rogue nation, terrorist group, or just some bored teenager in a basement, connecting every car to the same system has the potential to cause real havoc on the road. That much is obvious thanks to the efforts of hackers like Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek, who in July of 2015 demonstrated how easy it would be to remotely commandeer a 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

That said, the positives of an interconnected highway system are too good to pass up. I just hope the necessary precautions are taken first.

Jonathan Lopez
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“The launch of this technology is another in a long list of firsts for Audi that have positioned us as the industry leader in connectivity solutions,” said Audi of America President Scott Keogh. “V2I applications and services like Traffic Light Information are essential components as we continue to move toward an autonomous future. We applaud the innovative approach of Las Vegas in working with us on V2I as well as on our various piloted driving demonstrations over the past years.”

Traffic Light Information, an Audi connect PRIME feature, is available on select 2017 Audi A4, Q7 & allroad® models, and enables the car to communicate with the infrastructure in select cities and metropolitan areas across the U.S. The car receives real-time signal information from the advanced traffic management system that monitors traffic lights via the on-board 4G LTE data connection.

Audi Launches The First Vehicle-To-Infrastructure Technology In The U.S. High Resolution Exterior
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When approaching a connected traffic light, Traffic Light Information displays the time remaining until the signal changes to green in the driver instrument cluster, as well as the head-up-display (if equipped). Providing the driver with this additional information helps reduce stress and allows the driver to relax knowing approximately how much time remains before the changing of the light.

This “time-to-green” feature will be the first feature to leverage the Audi Traffic Light Information service. In the future, it may be possible to integrate information from these advanced traffic management systems into vehicle start/stop features, navigation systems to optimize routing, and predictive services such as presenting the driver with a speed recommendation designed to maximize the number of green lights one can make in sequence. All of these services would be designed to either improve efficiency, drive time or traffic management.

Audi Launches The First Vehicle-To-Infrastructure Technology In The U.S. High Resolution Exterior
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Traffic Light Information is launching this December in the U.S. beginning with Las Vegas, NV and will be available to customers with select Audi A4, Q7 and A4 allroad® models (manufactured after June 1, 2016) equipped with an active Audi connect® PRIME subscription. Continued expansion to additional cities across the U.S. is ongoing as we work with municipalities to prepare their infrastructure for V2I connectivity. Audi has partnered with Traffic Technology Services (TTS) to facilitate the transfer of traffic light data to Audi vehicles.

The contribution Audi is making in the connected infrastructure will enrich the experience for Audi owners first, then ultimately for all drivers as other manufacturers begin to integrate this technology into their vehicles. In the future smart cities will be able to use this technology to better understand traffic patterns and could adapt traffic signal behavior to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow.

Audi Launches The First Vehicle-To-Infrastructure Technology In The U.S. High Resolution Interior
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“The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) is proud to be the first in the nation to connect our traffic signal network to vehicles through our collaboration with Audi," said Tina Quigley, RTC General Manager. “This vehicle-to-infrastructure technology will help reduce congestion and enhance mobility on our already crowded roadways. Beyond the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas Strip, Southern Nevada continues to lead the way in transportation technology creating smart cities and communities for our residents and visitors.”

Nevada issued autonomous vehicle licenses for Audi to drive from California to Las Vegas three years ago and now Las Vegas is the first city to go live with V2I integration. The integration of this technology further demonstrates that Las Vegas is the model for smart cities of the future.

Audi Launches The First Vehicle-To-Infrastructure Technology In The U.S. High Resolution Interior
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Traffic Light Information is the latest in a line of pioneering connected car innovations by Audi. In 2010, Audi was the first manufacturer to offer a mobile connectivity enabled vehicle. Since then, Audi connect® has continued to expand on its industry-leading services and capabilities. In 2014, Audi was the first manufacturer to offer 4G LTE connectivity in the Audi A3 model line. Strategic partnerships and proprietary scalable infotainment architecture has allowed Audi to continuously offer our customers the latest in mobile connectivity solutions.

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