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Sampling Audi’s V2I System

Timing lights with Ingolstadt’s latest connected car innovation

We find ourselves embarking upon an exciting era for personal mobility: the age of the connected car. Some cars now have faster broadband than some people have at home, which facilitates the sending and receiving of more data than ever before. It's inevitable that we will be chauffeured around in driverless cars at some point in the future, though different manufacturers have different ideas on how this will materialize. Audi, for example, has been working on technologies that it thinks are essential for the driverless cars and we recently traveled to Las Vegas to see their latest innovation.

The system that we were shown is the first implementation in the US of a technology called 'Vehicle-to-infrastructure' (V2I). Audi's V2I system is a way for your car to know what is happening at traffic lights along your journey. Although it doesn't sound too exciting on the face of it, the technology is actually quite clever. When approaching a set of traffic lights, V2I will display the time remaining for the lights ahead to change — Audi calls it "time-to-green." This is made possible through a partnership with the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada. Around 1,300 or so intersections in Southern Nevada are connected to a central command center where keen eyes keep track of traffic flows and, more importantly for Audi, traffic signal status. This data is constantly shared with Audi so that their cars can show the time-to-green information on the digital dash and on the head-up display.

So why do we need to know how long we have to wait at the lights? Audi will tell you that V2I serves two purposes. Initially, the system is designed to give the driver an idea of how long they are due to wait at traffic lights, which Audi say reduces stress. However, they also see the importance of this technology in a more autonomous future. Currently, autonomous cars rely on on-board sensors to understand where they are and what they need to do. They use familiar technologies such as ultrasound to sense the presence of nearby objects — in the same way in which parking sensors work. They also use advanced technologies such as LIDAR to digitally scan further afield, mapping their surroundings in great detail. Such systems are invaluable for the car to know where it is on the globe and what's around it at any given time, but Audi thinks the car should know more. If an autonomous car had access to an entire city's traffic light status, it could more accurately plan its route to avoid congestion and time at rest.

We had the opportunity to test this system while taking the director of technology and motorsports communications, Mark Dahncke, for a cruise down the Las Vegas strip. During our test, we first encountered a mismatch between what we were told by the car and what we saw at the lights, an error that was rectified after the first couple of intersections. Dahncke attributed this to the way in which the system predicts traffic light status.

Modern Audis have the option of a 4G LTE data link, and this is how the car gets its information from RTC. Traffic light status is constantly updated in packets of data via the 4G LTE link, and gives a mostly accurate time-to-green for the lights you pass through. However, if an emergency vehicle or pedestrian button press changes the traffic light's pre-set loop, the prediction of the light color can be thrown until the RTC system regains confidence in the prediction. This error soon rectified itself once the system was back in the flow and we had no issues for the remainder of our Vegas strip cruise.

V2I benefits both the car manufacturer and the local authority. Audi gets real-world traffic light data to benefit their customers while the local authority gets vehicle data that can be used to optimize traffic flow. If this partnership continues into the future, Audi and RTC are convinced that their systems can reduce traffic congestion, driver stress, and emissions.

We can think of other ways in which this technology could be useful. Take, for example, the automatic braking systems offered on some cars. These could be used by an integrated V2I system to prevent a distracted driver from running a red light or slamming into a stopped vehicle.

Audi's own plans for this technology are to integrate a recommended speed display, which would let you know how fast you need to drive to always arrive at green lights. The system is also planned to be coupled to the vehicle's start/stop technology and on-board navigation system. All of these future features are said to improve efficiency, drive time, or traffic management.

Audi recognizes that this is only a first step in a future pathway to a fully connected car — and the system did prove beneficial during our testing. V2I is available now on new A4, Q7, and Allroad models when you subscribe to Audi's PRIME feature. Is this a good step forward for a smart and connected future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.