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Audi Debuts Navigation Feature that Counts Down to Green Light

stoplight

Audi has equipped most models in its 2017 lineup with a cloud-enabled countdown timer for red lights, capable of letting drivers know how many minutes or seconds they have left to wait until a stoplight turns green.

So if you’re at a red light and need to set your navigation route or tend to kids in the backseat, you’ll know whether you have enough time to do those things before the light turns green.

Taking advantage of the fact that more cities are implementing smart signaling and advanced traffic management systems that monitor traffic in real time, Audi’s new traffic light information system communicates with traffic signals to let the driver know when the light changes.

The feature will be part of a subscription navigation package called Audi Connect Prime, which costs between $27 and $33 a month.

Technology relies on smart traffic systems

Because the system has to tie in with each municipality’s signal management system, the service works only in Las Vegas for now. Audi plans to continue to roll out the service city by city more municipalities incorporate smart traffic systems.

Experts say Audi’s traffic light information system is an early indicator of some of the big changes under way in terms of how automobiles communicate with highway infrastructure to get from place.

“This is a baby step toward full or semi-autonomous cars,” says Mark Takahashi, an automotive editor at Edmunds.

Takahashi, who in early December attended a demonstration in Las Vegas of Audi’s new red light system, said the feature was even more useful than he expected. For example, if a traffic light is about to turn yellow or red, the sensor will let the driver know whether there’s enough time to make it through the intersection.

And because a lot of cars have start/stop technology that shuts off the engine to save fuel if the car rolls to a stop, the red light feature takes that into account. “If you’re pulling up to a red light, but there isn’t much time before it turns green, start/stop won’t engage,” Takahashi says. 

Next step toward self-driving cars

Audi’s red light clock is one of the first mainstream technologies to hit the market in terms of connectivity between vehicles and traffic infrastructure.

“It’s a good illustration of how vehicles and infrastructure can trade information back and forth, and it’s one of the low-hanging fruit,” says Kevin Balke, senior research engineer at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.  

Kara Macek, spokeswoman for the Governors Highway Safety Association, says giving more information to drivers could help them make better decisions. Her only concern would be if some drivers are inclined to speed up if there are just a few seconds left on a yellow light.

“But it’s certainly a harbinger of things to come in terms of having more technology in our cars every day,” Macek says.

Doug Newcomb, president and co-founder of the C3 Group, which provides conferences, consulting and content for the auto industry, says that right now higher-end auto makers such as Audi, BMW and Cadillac, are exploring connected vehicle technologies, and that others could soon follow their lead.

“Typically what happens is you have the technology on a high-end car like an Audi or BMW, and then you see it trickle out to lower-priced vehicles,” Newcomb says.

The technology brings Audi just a little bit closer to developing a self-driving car, a goal that Audi has been committed to, Takahashi says.

“We’re at least a decade away from a fully autonomous car,” he says. “But I think with Audi, the timeline is way shorter. The technology is advancing at a rapid pace.”