Audi helps out antsy drivers (and fuel efficiency) with a countdown to green lights

A new feature in some of Audi’s 2017 models will tell drivers stuck at red lights how long they’ll have to wait for a green signal. This eases not only driver anxiety, but also vehicle fuel use and emissions.

Audi said Monday that drivers of its 2017 models will need not stress about waiting at traffic lights any longer.

A new feature in some of the German automaker’s 2017 Q7 and A4 models outfitted with the company’s broadband service will tell drivers stuck at red lights how long they’ll have to wait for a green signal.

“If you’ve got 45 seconds you can take care of the kid in the back seat,” said Anuparm Malhotra, general manager of connectivity for Audi to The Los Angeles Times. “It’s a more relaxed form of driving.”

According to Audi of America, which is owned by Volkswagen, this will be the first commercial use of vehicle-to-infrastructure technology, known as “V2I,” which allows traffic signals and other road infrastructure to communicate wirelessly with vehicles to improve safety and traffic efficiency. The US Department of Transportation predicts that these technologies will deploy widely over the next few decades. It has designated $100 million over the next five years to pilot V2I technologies on America’s roadways.

In partnership with Oregon-based software company Traffic Technology Services, Audi will release the feature in several US cities that have agreed to share their traffic-light data with the automaker. These include Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Portland, Ore.

Traffic Technology Services, a two-year-old company that also is trying to market the same technology in Europe, will use traffic-light data collected by cities to manage their traffic flow, and feed it to Audi drivers by displaying the countdown on the dashboard to the moment a light is due to turn green. Eventually, the goal is to have the car advise a driver approaching a red light to slow down enough so that the driver can arrive at a green signal and be able to roll through without stopping on red. 

“If we can reduce how much we stop and the duration, that’s a benefit for the vehicle driver and for the city,” Kiel Ova, chief marketing officer at Traffic Technology Services, tells The Christian Science Monitor.

Mr. Ova says that eliminating stops could save on fuel costs and on emissions that are harmful to the environment and to the air residents in dense cities breath. “That’s our goal,” he says. So far Audi's "traffic light information system" has shown in tests that it can save drivers five to 10 percent in emission and fuel consumption. On its website, Audi reports that based on testing in Germany, if the technology was adopted throughout that country, drivers would save nearly 400 million gallons of fuel per year.

While Audi is selling the new technology as a convenience feature, it is part of a wave of smart-car advancements, that include automatic braking and lane switching, that are making US drivers safer. The US Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls innovation in driver-safety features a “revolution.” In just the last decade, reports the agency, car fatalities have dropped 36 percent.

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