Audi taught cars to talk to traffic lights, and they’re set to be even chattier

Audi A7 Autonomous traffic light

Las Vegas thrives on gambling, but Audi introduced a feature in 2016 that took much of the guesswork out of driving down the Strip. For the first time, motorists in compatible cars could tell exactly when a traffic light was about to turn green. They could bet the house on it.

Called traffic light information, the feature quickly outgrew the confines of Sin City. In early 2018, it was compatible with about 1,000 intersections across the United States. That number ballooned to nearly 4,700 during the year, and the company predicts the technology will expand faster in the coming years as its engineers and the growing list of cities it’s working with learn more about it. But while it sounds reasonably simple, getting cars to talk to traffic lights requires state-of-the-art hardware, advanced software, and a tremendous amount of data.

“One of the future enhancements we could think of right now is factoring traffic light information into the navigation.”

“Some of the signal controller systems are managed at the local level, while some are managed by the state’s department of transportation,” Balaji Yelchuru, Audi’s connectivity senior strategist, told Digital Trends. “Signal controllers typically last 25 to 50 years. Not all of them have the ability to be connected to the cloud,” he added. Luckily for Audi, many cities in the United States are willing to invest in updating their signal controller systems so that they can communicate with each other, and with internet-connected cars.

Once a communication channel is established, the traffic lights share basic information Audi calls signal timing plans with compatible cars via a 4G connection as they approach an intersection. In a nutshell, the car learns how long each light stays red for, when it turned red, and when it will turn green. This information is received in real time. Drivers waiting at an intersection know precisely when a light will turn green, and the green light optimized speed advisory (GLOSA) feature tells them the speed they need to travel at to catch the next green light. Everything is displayed in the car’s digital instrument cluster (called Virtual Cockpit in Audi-speak), and in the head-up display. Audi placed it there (rather than, say, in the touchscreen) to minimize potential distractions.

Audi A8 traffic drama shot
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Generating accurate location data is key; motorists don’t care whether a light four miles away is green, red, or purple. Sharing a car’s real-time location with city officials raises obvious privacy concerns, but Yelchuru stressed drivers have nothing to worry about. “We don’t use personalized data. It’s purely anonymous, so we just know a car is approaching this point at this speed. We don’t know the name of the owner, or the car’s VIN number.”

Our streets will get a lot chattier in the not-too-distant future. Looking ahead, traffic light information technology and GLOSA could communicate directly with the car’s stop-start system to tell it when to shut down the engine and when to start it, and it could also help the navigation system find the quickest route from A to B.

As of February 2019, Audi’s traffic light information technology works in the 13 metropolitan areas.

“One of the future enhancements we could think of right now is factoring traffic light information into the navigation. We know the signal delays on a given route, so we can optimize the route to minimize them. It could have a huge impact in cities like Washington D.C., where you have a lot of signals. It could have a huge impact on the overall travel time,” Yelchuru explained.

5G could make it faster, too, but the traffic light information feature is fully compatible with existing technologies. It doesn’t need a super-fast connection that lets cars exchange information with the infrastructure five or 10 times per second. That’s a boon for cities, because it keeps the cost of upgrades in check.

As of February 2019, Audi’s traffic light information technology works in the 13 metropolitan areas scattered across United States. The list includes New York City, Denver, Dallas, Portland, and Phoenix. The firm’s main focus is to expand it to new areas in America, but it’s also looking abroad. “We’re planning a roll-out in Canada. There is a road map for a global launch in other cities, including some parts of Europe,” Yelchuru affirmed.


Mercedes wants to turn your car into a comfortable shopping mall on wheels

Mercedes-Benz designed its MBUX infotainment system with e-commerce in mind. Motorists can upgrade compatible cars via an over-the-air software updating system, but the brand wants to take this technology to the next level.
Product Review

By adding features, tech, and all-wheel drive, Mazda puts the 3 in a class of one

Since its introduction in 2003, Mazda’s compact Mazda3 has been a mainstay of the brand’s driver-oriented strategy. Mazda now plans to move upmarket, and the all-new 2019 Mazda3 offers some clues about how that’s going to work.
Product Review

Chris is the virtual co-pilot phone-obsessives need in their car

Driving while using your phone is dangerous, and often illegal. Meet Chris, the digital assistant for your car that wants to help keep your hands off your phone, and your eyes on the road.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi group uses Microsoft cloud platform for connected cars

The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is launching a new cloud platform for its cars. Based on Microsoft Azure, the Alliance Intelligent Cloud will enable features like connected services and over-the-air updates.
Product Review

The Ferrari Portofino is the super stallion you’ll want to drive every day

With the introduction of the Portofino, Ferrari addresses the California T’s stylistic shortcomings while improving comfort, convenience, and performance. There’s little “entry-level” about this super stallion.

Autonomous shuttle rides coming to New York City via Optimus Ride

Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in NY City will soon be able to make their way around the 300-acre industrial park in Optimus Ride's self-driving shuttles. The tech startup says it's the first trial of its kind in the state.
Product Review

2019 Volkswagen Jetta offers German refinement and tech at an affordable price

With enough tech to make villains jealous, the Volkswagen Jetta punches above its class as a forward-thinking sedan. Spacious, comfortable, and efficient, the Jetta is a refined offering. German refinement comes with a serious attitude.

The 2019 Toyota C-HR gains a popular tech feature as its price comes down

Toyota has updated the C-HR, its entry-level crossover, by adding an entry-level trim level to the lineup. Every model regardless of price also comes standard with an 8.0-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay.

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Coupe is an exercise in form-over-function design

Porsche expanded its lineup of SUVs with a swoopier evolution of the Cayenne named Cayenne Coupe. Don't let the name fool you: it still has four doors. It stands out with a fastback-like roofline that's lower than the Cayenne's.

Protect yourself and your ride with our favorite dash cams

Dashboard cameras can assist drivers in car accident claims, settle speeding ticket disputes, and even catch glimpses of incoming meteors, among other things. Here, we've compiled a list of the most noteworthy offerings available.

Tesla revives its referral program with chances to win a Roadster

Tesla has revived its referral program that ended in February because of cost pressures. This time around the perks aren't quite as diverse, though it does offer regular chances to win a Roadster or Model Y.

Tesla ends scheduled servicing because electric cars need less maintenance

Tesla will longer offer scheduled maintenance plans, switching to an "as needed" model. This reflects the fact that electric cars need less regular maintenance than gasoline or diesel cars.

The go kart-like Mini Cooper will soon add zero emissions to its resume

Mini is in the final stages of developing an electric version of the Cooper. The 2020 Cooper SE will receive powertrain components from the BMW i3, including a 181-horsepower electric motor and battery technology.

Formula 1 is putting data in the driver’s seat, and not all racers are happy

After a single weekend of racing, a Formula 1 pit crew typically pulls around 2TB of data from the car. Everything, from tire pressure to the temperature of the track, is recorded and analyzed in the name of boosting performance -- and not…