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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could know when the traffic light is going to change? This one little bit of information can reduce traffic, speed up public transport, help pedestrians and improve air quality. Our U.S. reporter Lynn Walford takes a look at vehicle-to-infrastructure technology.

I’ve been hearing about Audi Traffic Light Information since its launch in late 2016. I never thought that knowing when the light will change could be such an empowering experience.

Recently, I was able to test drive an Audi Q5 with Traffic Light Information (TLI) in the only town where it is enabled in SoCal – Arcadia. I also talked with engineers and analysts to learn why real-time traffic light information is so important to the future of mobility.

Arcadia Engineered for the Future

Arcadia, a city in the San Gabriel Valley, is best known for being the home of the racetrack seen in the movie ‘Seabiscuit’, Santa Anita Park and the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens where Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin, owner of the Santa Anita Ranchero, brought peacocks from India that survived and thrive in the area. In fact, it’s one of the few cities in the area to have a peacock crossing.

Before going to Arcadia to test out TLI, I contacted Arcadia’s principal civil engineer, Kevin Merrill.

Five years ago Arcadia started five upgrading its traffic light system using Transuite from TransCore, says Merrill. Traffic Technology Services provides the data to Audi.

“One of the most important factors of it is that the infrastructure is running using fibre optic cables,” says Merrill. The speed of the fibre optics allows the system to work very fast while it uses 4G LTE wireless data to achieve near real-time accuracy.

“With upgraded controllers our goal is to be set up for connected and autonomous vehicles for when they come,” says Merrill who notes Arcadia is a test bed for other automakers to test out traffic light data in vehicles.

Merrill suggested routes to take in order to test out Audi’s TLI in the Audi Q5.

Test Driving TLI 

On the Audi Q5 steering wheel is a wheel to pick what to display on the instrument cluster and HUD. ‘Traffic signs’ shows the posted speed limit as you are driving. This feature is very helpful. I didn’t realise on all the streets I normally drive where the speed limit is reduced for schools. On other streets, I could travel faster.

As I entered the town of Arcadia on one of its main streets, an icon appeared on the HUD and in the instrument cluster showing how much more time the red light would remain. Other cars sped past me rushing to get to the red light which I knew wouldn’t be changing for quite some time. I saved fuel by not speeding to get to the red light when I arrived there, I felt relaxed because I knew in how many seconds the light would change.

When I was making a left turn out of a mini-mall, I was thinking that I might make a phone call with the spectacular sound system in the Audi Q5 that made my friends sound better than they do in person—but I only had 9 seconds–just enough time to get a sip of water.

TLI relieves one of the greatest problems of traffic lights, drivers not noticing when the light changes. Merrill says that often drivers do something such as look at their phone and then when the light changes they are doing something else. The delay causes a backup. TLI helped me to avoid backups.

The TLI system was making me feel empowered because I could calculate my driving to synchronise with the traffic lights.  I wanted to know more about how TLI works and to talk with Audi about why they did it.

Audi 1st Automaker with V2I

“Audi is the first automaker to offer Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) technology. It allows the driver to be more comfortable and relaxed. It’s a small thing but can have a huge impact,” says Balaji Yelchuru senior strategist, Connected Data at Audi that has launched the feature in close to 5,000 intersections in the United States.

Yelchru explained that because the driver knows when the traffic light will change there will be fewer hard stops. There will also be less accidents because drivers get confused when they’re in the ‘Dilemma Zone’ as the light is changing red from yellow trying to decide  if they should they speed through or if they should step on the brakes.

Way Better than Waze

One of my pet peeves is that when using mapping programs such as Waze or Google for arrival times is that they are not accurate especially on surface streets where there are traffic lights. Yelchru explained that mapping companies are using aggregated information while the traffic light information is real-time and more accurate.

Some of the other benefits of Traffic Light Information are that it helps people who are driving on winding roads who may not be aware that there is a signal up ahead or when there is be a bus or truck in front of the car blocking the traffic light notes Yelchru.

One of the important features of having traffic light information is that it will save on fuel.

Keeping Up with Green Lights is Very Green

“Stopping at a light burns more fuel because the vehicle is in the lowest gear. When the driver knows when the light is going to change and can adjust the speed to make it through the green light, it will save fuel,” says Egil Juliussen, director of research & principal analyst, Automotive Technology at IHSMarkit.

To make the process even easier to make it through the green light Audi’s latest available feature GLOSA (Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory) shows an icon suggests the speed to enable the vehicle to make it through the green light.

“It’s a good application when people get used to they will really like it,” predicts Juliussen. “In the future when were traffic light information is connected to cars then the infrastructure will able to keep the lights so that the most traffic will keep moving.”

“Traffic Light information is one of the features you have to experience to recognize its great value,” says Chris Schreiner, director of syndicated research at Strategy Analytics who believes in the future TLI will help reduce carbon emissions and congestion. He like Juliussen agrees that the timing of the traffic lights will be better.

“TLI will not only benefit the drivers and the automakers but also the municipalities,” says Schreiner.

However, a barrier to deployment will be the extra cost to the cities because it takes a lot of investment to change the infrastructure, notes Juliussen. Another downside is the cost of the data and who pays for it.

“Traffic light information is one the more useful applications of V2I and so the emphasis will be on getting the app deployed as soon as possible,” says Juliussen.

Lighting the Way to the Future of Transport

“It’s exciting. Our next step is to receive the data from vehicles for improved light synchronisation,” says Arcadia’s Merrill.

Even if don’t drive an Audi in the city of Arcadia’s traffic lights will be tuned to pedestrians and buses with helpful apps. The Arcadia City Transit app already offers real-time bus information. Arcadia’s pedestrian app will automate crosswalk calls.

In the near future, the Arcadia Transit buses will be equipped with 4G LTE devices that transmit to infrastructure when a bus is approaching an intersection. The traffic system will then either turn the traffic light green sooner or stay green so that the bus does not have to stop, says Merrill.

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