This isn’t breaking news of some cutting-edge tech. I mean, it’s technology, and it’s pretty advanced, but it’s been around for, what, five or six or so years at this point? And yet, somehow I’d missed that it existed at all, and now that I’m aware of it, I’m really taken by how useful it seems to be, especially when compared to all of the other ostensibly more complex and full-featured driver assist tools modern cars have now. It’s called Traffic Light Information, and it seems to be an Audi exclusive. Oh, and just for the record, this is by no means an Audi ad; I don’t care if you buy an Audi or not, or, for that matter, any other car brand from the Auto-Union, from DKW to Wanderer. But let’s just take a minute and talk about this pretty simple but remarkably useful feature, and wonder, loudly, why it’s not become more common.
Essentially, what Traffic Light Information does are two things: counts down the time at a red traffic light until it turns green (this feature seems to have appeared in 2016) and then adding something called GLOSA, for “Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory” in 2019 which is a system that computes the optimal speed to drive so you can catch every single green light along your route, surfing from emerald glow to verdant glare over and over, a chain of green lights that remains one city driving’s greatest joys.
Here’s an Audi video about the system from about three years ago:
The pretty straightforward functionality of the system hides a lot of sophisticated stuff going on behind the scenes, specifically in the arenas of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication, which will likely prove to be crucial if we’re ever going to manage to produce a real, viable network of automated cars that actually, you know, work.
When an Audi (or, I suppose any car) equipped with this or a similar system enters an area that supports V2I, the car logs onto that network with a one-time-use token. There’s an intermediary company involved as well, Traffic Technology Services (TTS), which is responsible for interfacing with the local traffic signal networks and providing the bridging to the internet, where the cars can access the data.
According to their site, in the US there are over 40 metropolitan areas and 48,000 traffic signal intersections that are on the network, and from what I can tell, so far it’s only Audi that has implemented this Personal Signal Assistant tech, though a timeline on their About page talks about partnerships with Mercedes-Benz in 2021, and Ford and Audi in China in 2022. Here’s a map of their US locations:
Here’s what gets me about all of this: these basic features sound useful as hell, and they’re not even remotely mainstream, like lane keeping or dynamic cruise control or whatever. Some features start with one marque and then prove so useful or desirable they eventually disperse all throughout automobilldom like an adapted evolutionary trait. Take lane departure warning systems, for example. That type of thing first showed up, on, of all cars, the 1992 Mitsubishi Debonair, but now its pretty close to standard on pretty much everything from Fits to Ferraris.
And, sure, lane keeping is fine, if you like your car beeping or vibrating at you for barely wandering in a lane, when its own fussy rules decide you’re too close, even though you know damn well how to drive in a freaking lane. Compare that to the feeling you get when you manage to time the lights just right and end up in that glorious cascade of green, never having to hit the brakes or anything, surfing from intersection to intersection like a leaf on the wind.
This Audi system tells you how, via math and telecommunications, to do just that, over and over, whenever you need! And if you do hit a red light, there’s that little timer so you know if you have time to fish under the seats for that bag of Combos you’re almost positive is down there or check to see if anyone texted you dirty pictures or whatever.
Audi goes into the tech behind this a bit more, some of which isn’t quite as obvious as you’d think, because there are variations in the timing of the signals:
To do this, Audi and TLI have to precisely predict how traffic lights will behave in the next two minutes in spite of the variability of traffic volume and changing intervals between red and green.
This led TTS to develop a complex analytical algorithm that calculates predictions from three sources: the control program of the traffic signals; real-time data of the traffic computer, a combination of road-occupation cameras, detector strips in the road surface, data on approaching buses and trams and buttons that pedestrians press; and historical data. The forecast algorithm improves itself continuously and learns how, for example, the traffic volume changes in morning commuter traffic or at midday when children leave schools.
Audi vehicles send anonymized data when traffic lights are crossed to a backend, which checks whether the actual crossings of traffic lights correspond to the forecast data. After initial and ongoing quality thresholds are met, the traffic lights are cleared for the display in the car.
Once engineers are able to ensure algorithms are within 95% accuracy of the data, even accounting for various traffic situations, Audi and TTS turn on traffic signals for customers to see for TLI, TTG and GLOSA in their cars.
Audi’s made plenty of videos about this stuff, so here, watch another one:
Other people who have been paying more attention to Audi electronic innovations have tried the system out, and the reviews seem pretty positive:
Look at that! And yet, this still feels like something everyone forgot about.
These are both really useful features! And somehow they’re still stuck imprisoned behind the Four Rings of Audi, and no one else is interested? How can this be? When it comes to minor technological driving aids, wouldn’t you think these traffic-light management features would be more appealing to people? Not having to stop and start can save gas, too.
I don’t get it. Am I wrong, here? Shouldn’t features like these be more common? Am I overestimating the joy these simple things can offer? Let’s talk about this. Did everyone know about it but me?
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