Audi is introducing technology which will allow cars to talk to traffic lights. The technology is known within the industry as Vehicle To Infrastructure (VTI) and the hope is that future driving with VTI will be safer and less stressful.
German car maker Audi, a pioneer of traffic light recognition technology, has now begun installing VTI into some of its A4 models destined for the US market and will begin pilot tests of the systems in half a dozen cities during 2017. VTI allows the vehicle to collect information from suitably equipped roadside infrastructure, and the initial tests will focus on VTI-enabled traffic lights.
As the VTI car approaches the traffic lights, it is able to find out how much longer the signal will be green. If the car determines the lights will be red before it reaches them, it can indicate to the driver to begin gently slowing down, and thus improve fuel economy. Future enhancements could include advising the driver on the best speed to take to improve smooth traffic flow through lights, thus reducing congestion. Long term developments might include intelligent traffic lights which detect approaching vehicles at quiet times and switch to let them through.
An interesting feature of the Audi system is that when the car is sitting at a red light, it will give the driver a countdown showing how long they have to wait before the lights turn green again. The point of this is not, of course, to allow the driver to do a racing start, or to ignore the lights and road and rely only on the digital readout, but simply to reduce some of the stress of driving.
As you might expect, it is going to take considerable investment by cities to install the hardware required in traffic lights, and it will be a long term development in the motor industry before these sorts of systems appear built into anything but the high-end cars. However, much the same was said of satnav systems when they were first conceived, and which are now commonplace dashboard add-ons needing nothing more than a lighter socket for a power supply.
VTI-enabled infrastructure will also be hugely useful in the development of autonomous self driving vehicles. Google's self-driving cars have covered thousands of test miles but Google's engineer, Daniel Rosenband, told the Hot Chips conference this week that traffic lights remain a problem for automated systems which are easily fooled by unexpected objects and sunsets which could be mistaken for a stop light signal. Humans can use contextual information to work out what the object is, and that is an area in which AI needs to catch up. In other areas, Google recently said it has improved the way its robot cars will communicate with other road users, as explained in this video.
In the past couple of weeks, Finland has begun a month-long trial of driverless buses in the capital Helsinki. Each bus will travel at a fairly leisurely top speed of just six miles per hour and can carry up to ten passengers, although during the tests they will all have a driver onboard to take control if anything goes wrong. Helsinki is an ideal city for these tests. It is small and compact, and has long had an integrated transport policy for its buses, trams, metro and ferries. It was an early adopter of smart ticket systems and has the ambitious objective of eliminating the need for car ownership by 2025. The tests have also been made easier because, by a strange quirk of Finnish law, there is no legal requirement for vehicles in Finland to have a driver.
25th August 2016
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