Soon, Audi cars are going to be able to tell drivers when a light will turn green.
The new feature marks the first time an automaker has successfully launched something called a vehicle-to infrastructure (V2I) communication channel. V2I refers to any time a structure in a city, like a traffic light, relays data to a car.
The traffic light timer will be displayed behind the wheel of the car. At this point, the system only works in Las Vegas and in Audi’s A4, Q7, and A4 allroad models built after June 1, 2016.
Audi plans on introducing the feature in other cities going into 2017.
Despite its limitations, the development illustrates how Audi is looking to become a major player in the self-driving car space. Its implementation of V2I will help the system gather more data and strenthen the self-driving tech long-term.
Data gathered by V2I can help self-driving cars operate more safely by giving them more information about their surrounding environment. For example, the data can help self-driving cars see the general traffic flow and areas of congestion.
“The primary benefit right now is to the person driving the Audi,” Scott Keogh, president of Audi America, said on CNBC. “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.”
Automakers are also exploring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication, which allows cars to send data to other cars on the road.
Audi has teamed up with BMW and Mercedes to supply digital map-maker HERE with the same kind of data being collected in Las Vegas as part of an effort to advance its self-driving cars.
Other automakers are also interested in integrating cities with smart tech to help advance self-driving cars.
Artificial intelligence expert Andrew Ng, who is currently helping lead Chinese automaker Baidu’s self-driving car efforts as chief scientist, wrote in Wired that it’s necessary to make “modest changes to our infrastructure” for self-driving cars to operate safely on public roads.
Footpath Labs, a division run under Google’s parent company Alphabet, is also pursuing ways to connect cities to make them starter.
Columbus, Ohio was awarded $40 million by the Department of Transportation to help it “become the country’s first city to fully integrate innovative technologies — self-driving cars, connected vehicles, and smart sensors — into their transportation network.”
All of this is to say the connected city will become a greater focus as Silicon Valley and traditional automakers ramp up their self-driving car efforts and Audi is looking to stay ahead of the curve.