Audi connects with traffic lights in the US
BY THOMAS LUCAS-NÜLLE
If you know in advance when a traffic light will turn red or green, you will drive more relaxed and efficiently. Audi is the first car manufacturer to connect with the urban surrounding – an important step towards autonomous driving. This service is called “traffic light information” and it is supposed to optimise the traffic flow, save time and treat the environment with care. Audi of America cooperates with a number of cities in North America to install the car-to-X technology. Further US cities are to follow and there is a plan to implement the system in Europe, too. We talked with Michael Zweck, Senior Development Engineer at Volkswagen America, about this proactive project.
Mr Zweck, since last autumn some American Audi models are able to inform the driver about the state of traffic lights. Can you give us some details about this innovation?
‘Audi Traffic Light Information’ is the first real vehicle-to-infrastructure service (V2I) by a car manufacturer. Since December, Audi drivers in Las Vegas are given an indication as to when the next traffic light will change to green.
Can you please explain to us the new ‘Traffic Light Information’ system that forms the basis for this intelligent communication?
‘Traffic Light Information’ works in every Audi and Q7 made in North America after the 1st of June 2016 and equipped with Audi Connect. Using a fast Internet connection, for example 4G/LTE, our cars receive data from the municipal traffic server. In the Audi virtual cockpit or on the heads-up display, the driver can see whether he or she can reach the next green light within the boundaries of the speed limits. If this is not the case, the driver can take the foot off the accelerator. Proactive driving improves the flow of traffic and saves time for the driver.
Which companies are you cooperating with for this purpose and why?
When we started the series, we cooperated with Traffic Technology Services TTS. Basically, a prospective partner has to be knowledgeable in traffic technology and able to process data on a large scale at the same time. TTS processes the raw traffic light data and sends it to the car server. The data reach the car from there.
How easy or difficult is it to realise such a big project? Does it require much negotiation with government agencies in advance?
Traffic lights are a regional responsibility, as are the required traffic light data. Our pilot projects have taught us that we have to deal with different contacts and that the data are not always handled centrally. In Shanghai, for example, traffic lights fall in the administration of the police. Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany has 24 traffic lights, of which 12 belong to the town whilst the other 12 are part of the district of Weilheim. Las Vegas has around 1000 traffic lights, which are already concentrated into the local Traffic Management Centre (TMC).
How much does technology of this kind cost?
Ideally, we use exclusively the traffic light technology of the cities. In the United States, the required, standardised infrastructure already exists in many places. The real effort lies in cooperating with the cities and in getting access to the traffic light data. After this, the data specialists perform the transition, and following comprehensive tests we can eventually forecast traffic light changes.
Does this new technology have an impact on CO2 emissions?
Our pilot project demonstrated that, compared to the usual behaviour at traffic light changes, we can save 15 per cent of fuel. This could be increased even more if future navigation systems would take “green waves” into account, or if electric vehicles would use braking power at a red light to charge the battery.
Which of your models have been equipped with the Traffic Light Information System, which makes it possible to have advanced knowledge of the traffic light situation?
‘Traffic Light Information System’ works in every Audi and Q4 built after the 1st of June 2016 in North America and equipped with Audi Connect.
Why is it only possible so far to use vehicles with this equipment in America?
In Europe, different traffic technologies have been employed, because the infrastructure was developed locally and in a decentralised manner. We are working on standardising the existing data. After that we will be able to offer traffic light information in Europe, too. In the US many places already have the standardised infrastructure. Las Vegas was very well suited for the launch of the traffic light assistance. Here you have signals that stay red for about 120 seconds. If I stop at a traffic light knowing that nothing is going to happen for the next 2 minutes, I can relax and turn around to my children at the back of the car, change the music or study the navigation.
When can we expect to have it here?
The vehicle technology is ready for series production. All we need now is the traffic light data at the required standard.
How much closer does the Intelligent Traffic Light Infrastructure get us to realising the Smart City Concept?
The term ‘Smart City’, amongst other things, conveys a city worth living in. Urbanisation is very important for Audi. We will improve energy efficiency if we connect cars with infrastructure. In many places, traffic planners use cameras to measure the traffic load at junctions. However, a car needs to be nearby for this to work. If an intelligent traffic light system is aware long in advance about when a car will arrive and where it will turn, traffic will be much easier to organise.
Which future scenario would you like to see regarding the development of the Smart City?
A higher degree of standardisation and networking would be desirable. ‘Open Data’ is an interesting area. Palo Alto, for example, has an ‘Open Data Policy’. This means that if I meet certain conditions, I can obtain data from the city to generate increased value for the community. In our case, this is the data of 100 traffic lights, transmitting their status in real time.
Which role do you wish for Audi in this regard?
‘Traffic Light Information’ is only the beginning; further V2Is are to follow. This way, the car will gradually become a genuine mobile device. The ultimate goal of this development is autonomous driving.
Michael Zweck is Senior Development Engineer at Volkswagen of America and responsible Project Manager for the group’s ‘Traffic Light Information’ service. Zweck has been at Audi since 2002.
This article was published in The Produktkulturmagazin, issue Q1 2017. Picture credit © Audi