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At last, cars talk to traffic lights to catch ‘green wave’

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By ANDRE HAINZLMAIER, head of development of apps, connected services and smart city at Audi.

Stop-and-go traffic in cities is annoying. By contrast, we are pleased when we have a “green wave” – but we catch them far too seldom, unfortunately. With the Traffic Light Information function, drivers are more in control. They drive more efficiently and are more relaxed because they know 250 meters ahead of a traffic light whether they will catch it on green. In the future, anonymized data from our cars can help to switch traffic lights in cities to better phases and to optimise the traffic flow.

In the USA, Audi customers have been using the “Time-to-Green” function for two years: if the driver will reach the lights on red, a countdown in the Audi virtual cockpit or head-up display counts the seconds to the next green phase. This service is now available at more than 5,000 intersections in the USA, for example in cities like Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland and Washington D.C. In the US capital alone, about 1,000 intersections are linked to the Traffic Light Information function.

Since February, Audi has offered a further function in North America. The purpose of this is especially to enable driving on the “green wave”. “Green Light Optimized Speed Advisory” (GLOSA) shows to the driver in the ideal speed for reaching the next traffic light on green.

Both Time-to-Green and GLOSA will be activated for the start of operation in Ingolstadt in selected Audi models. These include all Audi e-tron models and the A4, A6, A7, A8, Q3, Q7 and Q8 to be produced from mid-July (“model year 2020”). The prerequisite is the “Audi connect Navigation & Infotainment” package and the optional “camera-based traffic sign recognition”.

Why is this function becoming available in Europe two years later than in the USA? 

The challenges for the serial introduction of the service are much greater here than, for example, in the USA, where urban traffic light systems were planned over a large area and uniformly. In Europe, by contrast, the traffic infrastructure has developed more locally and decentrally – with a great variety of traffic technology. How quickly other cities are connected to this technology depends above all on whether data standards and interfaces get established and cities digitalise their traffic lights.

On this project, Audi is working with Traffic Technology Services (TTS). TTS prepares the raw data from city traffic management centres and transmits them to the Audi servers. From here, the information reaches the car via a fast Internet connection.

Audi is working to offer Traffic Light Information in further cities in Germany, Europe, Canada and the USA in the coming years. In the large east Chinese city of Wuxi, Audi and partners are testing networks between cars and traffic light systems in the context of a development project.

In future, Audi customers may be able to benefit from additional functions, for example when “green waves” are incorporated into the ideal route planning. It is also conceivable that Audi e-tron models, when cruising up to a red traffic light, will make increased used of braking energy in order to charge their batteries. Coupled with predictive adaptive cruise control (pACC), the cars could even brake automatically at red lights.

In the long term, urban traffic will benefit. When cars send anonymised data to the city, for example, traffic signals could operate more flexibly. Every driver knows the following situation: in the evening you wait at a red light – while no other car is to be seen far and wide. Networked traffic lights would then react according to demand. Drivers of other automotive brands will also profit from the development work that Audi is carrying out with Traffic Light Information – good news for cities, which are dependent on the anonymised data of large fleets to achieve the most efficient traffic management.

In future, V2I technologies like Traffic Light Information will facilitate automated driving. 

A city is one of the most complex environments for an autonomous car. Nevertheless, the vehicle has to be able to handle the situation, even in rain and snow. Data exchange with the traffic infrastructure can be highly relevant here. 

Cars

For users, in-car touchscreens ever more useless

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As touchscreens become more commonplace, the gulf of perceived differences in the performance of these features between cars and other devices (such as mobile and in-home) has become wider. A new report from the In-Vehicle UX (IVX) group at Strategy Analytics has investigated car owners’ satisfaction with their on-board touchscreens. Long hamstrung by poor UX and extended production cycles, in-car touchscreens are seen by car users and buyers as lagging behind the experience offered by touchscreens outside the car. As such, consumer satisfaction has continued to slide in China and Europe, while reaching historic lows in the US.

Surveying consumers in the US, Western Europe, and China via web-survey, key report findings include:

  • Difficult text entry and excessive fingerprint smudging are common complaints among all car owners.
  • Because touchscreens have reached market saturation in the US, satisfaction with in-car screens has tailed off significantly.
  • However, touchscreens remain a relatively newer phenomenon in many car models in Western Europe (compared with the US) and thus their limitations are less prominent in the minds of car owners.
  • Overall touchscreen satisfaction fell for the fifth straight year in China, indicating a growing impatience for in-car UX to match UX found elsewhere in the consumer electronics space.

Derek Viita, Senior Analyst and report author, says, “Part of the issue with fingerprint smudging is the angle at which in-car touchscreens are installed – they make every fingerprint increasingly visible.

“Fingerprint smudging is an issue across all touchscreen-based consumer electronics. But in most form factors and especially mobile devices, consumers can quite easily adjust their viewing angle. This is not always the case with fixed in-car screens.”

Says Chris Schreiner, Director, Syndicated Research UXIP, “Although hardware quality certainly figures in many of the usual complaints car owners have about their screens, it is not the sole factor. Cockpit layout and UI design can play important roles in mitigating some issues with in-car touchscreens.”

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Volvo to use blockchain to trace battery cobalt

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Volvo Cars will become the first carmaker to implement global traceability of cobalt used in its batteries by applying blockchain technology. The announcement follows the reveal last month of the company’s first fully electric car, the XC40 Recharge.

Traceability of raw materials used in the production of lithium-ion batteries, such as cobalt, is one of the main sustainability challenges faced by carmakers. Volvo says its committed to full traceability, ensuring that customers can drive electrified Volvos knowing the material for the batteries has been sourced responsibly.

“It is a mineral that is essential to the production of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric cars,” says Greg Maruszewski, Managing Director of Volvo Cars South Africa. “But, sadly, it has long been suspected that some of the cobalt comes from mines that don’t use ethical mining practices. Now, thanks to blockchain traceability, we will know that the cobalt has been sourced responsibly. We are the first and only vehicle manufacturer that can make this statement. Accordingly, South African motorists who buy a Volvo in our XC90 T8 range can do so with pride – with the guaranteed knowledge that only ethical mining practices have taken place in the cobalt supply chain.”

Blockchain technology, which establishes a transparent and reliable shared data network, significantly boosts transparency of the raw material supply chain as the information about the material’s origin cannot be changed undetected.

Volvo Cars has now reached an agreement with its two global battery suppliers, CATL of China and LG Chem of South Korea, and leading global blockchain technology firms to implement traceability of cobalt starting this year.

Technology firms Circulor and Oracle operate the blockchain technology across CATL’s supply chain following a successful pilot earlier this summer, while the Responsible Sourcing Blockchain Network (RSBN), together with responsible sourcing specialists RCS Global and IBM, is rolling out the technology in LG Chem’s supply chain.

“We have always been committed to an ethical supply chain for our raw materials,” says Martina Buchhauser, head of procurement at Volvo Cars. “With blockchain technology we can take the next step towards ensuring full traceability of our supply chain and minimising any related risks, in close collaboration with our suppliers.”

A blockchain is a digital ledger containing a list of records linked to each other via cryptography. Within supply chains, the technology creates records of transactions, which cannot be changed while also enforcing a common set of rules for what data can be recorded. This allows participants to verify and audit transactions independently.

In this particular case, data in the blockchain include the cobalt’s origin, attributes such as weight and size, the chain of custody and information establishing that participants’ behavior is consistent with OECD supply chain guidelines. This approach helps create trust between participants along a supply chain.

Volvo Cars last month launched the XC40 Recharge, the first of an upcoming family of fully electric cars under the Recharge banner. By 2025, it expects half of its global sales to consist of fully electric cars, with the rest hybrids.

Last month, Volvo Cars also launched an ambitious climate plan, which includes a radical reduction of carbon emissions by 40% per vehicle by 2025, as well as a continued commitment to ethical business across its entire operations and supply chain.

CATL and LG Chem are renowned battery manufacturers, both with long and successful track records supplying lithium-ion batteries to the global automotive industry. They fulfil Volvo Cars’ strict sourcing guidelines in terms of technology leadership, responsible supply chains, reduction of carbon emissions and competitive cost models.

The agreements between Volvo Cars, CATL and LG Chem cover the supply of batteries over the coming decade for next-generation Volvo and Polestar models, including the XC40 Recharge.

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