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Audi’s traffic-light information system counts down to green lights

Getting stuck at a traffic light can be frustrating, but what if you knew when that light was going to change?

Audi is launching a system that allows traffic lights to communicate with cars, and it believes that will not only reduce motorists’ anxiety levels, but also traffic in general. The traffic light information system launches this fall on the 2017 Q7, A4, and Allroad, but there’s a hitch: it only works in cities with smart traffic lights.

The system is a form of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology, another iteration of the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications tech that safety advocates believe could substantially reduce crashes by allowing vehicles to communicate warnings and information to each other and, in turn, to drivers.

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In this case, a car uses its built-in 4G LTE connection to receive information from a traffic-management system that monitors lights. That system is run by Traffic Technology Services and is the reason why the Audi system is only available in certain cities. It can’t talk to traffic lights that don’t know how to talk back. Audi says availability will eventually expand to “metropolitan areas across the country through 2017 and beyond.”

While waiting at a compatible traffic light, the driver-information display in the instrument cluster (or head-up display, on vehicles so equipped) shows the time remaining until the signal changes to green. Audi views this as a “first step to other V2I features that could be linked to things like navigation and engine start-stop systems, Pom Malhotra, the carmaker’s general manager of connected vehicles, said. Malhotra believes this could improve traffic flow in cities, cutting fuel consumption and commuting times.

For now, though, the traffic-light information system is a nifty but limited new feature. It’s compatible with all 2017 Q7, A4, and Allroad models built after June 1, 2016, but requires Audi Connect Prime, a subscription service that also includes things like real-time gas price and parking information, streaming music, and geofencing and curfew alert features for teenage drivers.