Audis can now tell you when the traffic light will change

2017 audi a4AudiThe 2017 Audi A4.

Audi just become the first automaker to successfully launch a vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communication system.

Select Audi cars — the A4, Q7, and A4 allroad models built after June 1, 2016 — now come with a timer that will tell you when the light will change when driving in Las Vegas. Audi worked with the Las Vegas government to link 1,000 traffic lights to the cars for the timer to work, Scott Keogh, president of Audi America, told CNBC on Tuesday morning.

The timer is displayed in the instrument cluster behind the driver’s wheel and counts down the seconds until the light turns green. The timer will disappear about three seconds before the light changes to discourage people from racing each other.

“This is the first time you’re going to have a car that’s actually connected to the infrastructure,” Keogh told CNBC. “This is where the world is heading.”

Audi plans to expand the program to other cities throughout 2017 and beyond, but Keogh didn’t elaborate when or where we may see the program next.

It’s a big deal for the future of driving as it marks the first application of V2I communication. Many automakers are exploring using V2I, as well as vehicle-t0-vehicle (V2V), communication systems to collect data on traffic flow, accidents up ahead, and climate conditions.

V2I refers to cars talking to infrastructures like traffic lights or sensors embedded in roads to collect this data. While V2V, just like it sounds, refers to cars talking to each other about conditions ahead.

That kind of data can be used to inform human drivers about what to expect as they drive so they can make decisions in advance, like changing their route before hitting traffic.

But V2I and V2V can also help self-driving cars operate more safely in the future by giving them more information about their surrounding environment.

“The primary benefit right now is to the person driving the Audi,” Keogh said. “Where it’s going to lead to is the information can go from the car back to the infrastructure…. We have good information about traffic flow and highways, but we really don’t have good information on traffic flow in inner cities.”

The 2017 Mercedes E-Class is the first car to come with a V2V communication system. The 2017 E-Class comes with a SIM card that can transmit road conditions ahead to a Daimler’s backend server, which is then relayed to other E-Class cars on the road.

The V2V and V2I communication systems supported by select Mercedes and Audi cars is still limited in scope. But it speaks to how automakers are working to make cars more connected to the outside world.

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