Audi has figured out a way to make sitting in traffic a less white-knuckling experience.
The luxury car maker announced Monday it’s bringing a traffic light timer to its vehicle dashboards, and will start rolling it out in some major US cities by the end of the year.
When you roll up to a red light in your Audi Q7, A4, or Allroad vehicle (manufactured after June 1 of this year), a ticker will appear in the display behind the steering wheel that counts down the seconds until the light will turn green. It disappears about three seconds before the light change, to discourage drivers from racing one another.
The feature will become available through the Audi Connect package, which starts at $25 a month and includes core safety, navigation, and infotainment services.
The German titan of connected cars is betting that a more informed driver is a happier one.
“If you just think about the number of intersections that you pass through, and you think about the accumulated anxiety, accumulated stress that happens because of these, it’s information like this,” says Pom Malhotra, general manager of connected vehicles for Audi, “that allows your mind to relax and basically, say, ‘All right. I have some time here. I can be doing other things instead of readying myself to jump on the accelerator.'”
At a press event in San Francisco late last week, Malhotra walked through some of the potential use cases of the feature. If a driver knows she has a minute to wait, she might turn around in her chair to check on her child, change the radio station, or even pull into the right lane to navigate around the traffic light. It’s a safe time to be distracted.
But what about texting? There are currently 46 states than ban messaging behind the wheel.
Malhotra put the same argument to use that a parent of a teenager might use if he wants his kid drinking beer at home, where it’s safe and supervised.
“By no means do we encourage use of smartphones behind the wheel, but if there’s a time to do it, it’s when you’re stopped,” Malhotra told the group.
Audi completed a one-year trial with about 100 cars equipped with the traffic light timer in Palo Alto, Las Vegas, and Washington, DC. During this time, the company implemented certain safeguards such as hiding the countdown at a certain distance from the intersection, so drivers aren’t encouraged to gun it to beat the light.
There are 300,000 traffic signals in the US — some operated by local companies, others by government — and most are internet-connected. Audi is working with a third-party so vehicles will be able to beam the cloud for second-by-second phase information.
However, the roll-out will be slow as Audi must coordinate with each city individually to tap into its road infrastructure. It expects to release the feature in seven US cities before the end of the year, and make available to 50% of Audi equipped vehicles by the end of 2017.
The introduction of the traffic light timer marks an incremental step in Audi’s path to the fully connected car. It’s a small, quirky perk for drivers that could unlock loads more features in the future, according to Malhotra.
In the future, the system that makes the traffic light timer work might talk to the navigation system to make predictions around where traffic clusters will form, re-route the driver, or give a recommended speed in order to hit a channel of green lights.
If that’s not bliss, we’re not sure what is.