Weekly Brief: Audi takes V2I mainstream in Las Vegas

It may not sound all that glamorous but Audi’s new Traffic Light Information feature represents a bellwether moment for V2I communication. Andrew Tolve reports.

Think about a time when, if every time you missed a green light, your car told you exactly how long you had to wait until another green light returned. You’ll have enough time to fix your tie or reapply lipstick in the rear view mirror, perhaps, or hand your child a snack in the backseat. Better yet, when you approached an intersection, your car would let you know if you could make the light while staying within the legal speed limit, which would lead to less acceleration and slamming of brakes, which in turn would cause less wear and tear on your car and less traffic rippling backward from your bumper.

This is the promise of Audi’s new Traffic Light Information feature — the first vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) integration in the US when it goes live in Las Vegas on 2017 Audi A4s and Q7s. Here's how it works: municipal traffic management centres will communicate the traffic-light data to Audi’s project partner Traffic Technology Services. Here the data is prepared and sent to the on-board computer in the Audi via a 4G Internet connection and the Audi virtual cockpit or head-up display then relays the info to the driver in real time.

As a practical feature, this may all sound pretty basic to customers, especially in an era where connected cars can do everything from display real time traffic to offer automatic braking to answer email to drive themselves. On the other hand, Traffic Light Information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to V2I integrations, which will ultimately play a big role in helping autonomous cars safely navigate urban environments. A first step, therefore, is a big step no matter what the value of its practical function.

In other news, Michigan became the first state in the US to legalise autonomous cars and trucks on its roads. Plenty of other states permit manufacturers to test these vehicles but Michigan now allows authorised companies to fully operate autonomous truck platoons and on-demand autonomous vehicle networks. The goal is to leapfrog the likes of Nevada and California and make Michigan the epicentre of autonomous car activity in the US. Additionally, the legislation creates the Michigan Council on Future Mobility within the Michigan Department of Transportation to make future recommendations to keep Michigan ahead of the curve on regulatory issues that could impede new development.

Text and drive? Your car insurance premium may soon be on the rise because of it. TrueMotion received regulatory approval from the New Jersey and Pennsylvania insurance divisions for its distracted driving score, which captures and scores a driver's actual distraction habits like talking, texting, app use and other interactions with a smartphone. This enables insurers to incentivise and reward safe driving via usage based insurance models. In the future, they could also use distracted behaviour as a financial penalty. No word yet on which insurers will first put the distracted driving score into action in 2017.

Allstatebroke ground on a €30M (£25M) headquarters in Belfast, Ireland, for its new telematics outfit, Arity, which is the culmination of six years of Allstate experiments with insurance telematics models and technology. Now it wants to sell its expertise as a software to other insurers, carmakers and transport companies and it plans to do it from Belfast. Arity will be a standalone business so that it can integrate more data sources outside of Allstate into its database.

For years there have been rumours (largely unsubstantiated) that Apple is set to the join the race with Google for self-driving cars, setting up a galactic clash between two of the biggest tech companies on the planet. Last week the rumours gained momentum when a patent surfaced for a collision avoidance system that Apple filed back in June of 2015. The system, outlined in the patent, surveys the surrounding environment up to 60 times every second, or 3,600 times per minute, so that a car is constantly identifying objects that it could potentially collide with and takes the necessary measures to swerve or brake in order to avoid them.

Applethen added the world’s largest network of electric vehicle charging stations to Apple Maps last week, further stoking speculation that an all-electric Apple Car may be imminent. The stations come courtesy of ChargePoint; tapping on a location brings up current pricing and an option for payment via the ChargePoint app or Apple Pay. There are more than 30,000 ChargePoint locations worldwide.

Finally, Cognitive Technologies, a Russian robotics developer, launched a computer vision system for self-driving cars that can think and process information just like the human hippocampus part of the brain. That means it can complement real time data gleaned from a video camera with data that it remembers from a few moments earlier, allowing it to determine the most important information from a flow of external signals. The solution may help to fill a blind spot in current computer vision systems, like those in Tesla's Autopilot feature that have led to a number of fatal crashes after failing to identify trucks on the fringe of a camera image.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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