If there is one piece of car technology we remember being promised about a decade and a half ago that is slowly coming true without hype, vaporware or unrealistic promises of transforming the automotive industry overnight, it’s cellular vehicle-to-everything technology, known in tech circles as C-V2X. It has the added benefit of sounding like the name of a background droid from Star Wars, and refers to the ability of cars to communicate with infrastructure, such as traffic lights and traffic monitoring systems, to increase safety and efficiency.
You might already take real-time traffic displays in your navigation system for granted, but C-V2X takes that a step further, allowing cars to communicate with each other and to communicate with traffic-related devices in their surroundings. This technology has already seen a limited rollout in Audi Q8 vehicles, displaying a countdown to green traffic lights to allow drivers to better gauge their speed. Audi’s Traffic Light Information (TLI) service in the Q8 has been one of the first real glimpses into C-V2X technology and its potential, and it has done so in a safe, effective way, allowing users to breeze through the lights without guessing and without stress, with the system notifying them of potential red-light violations.
Yet another benefit of C-V2X technology that Audi along with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., American Tower Corporation and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) are working on has to do with road worker safety, specifically a C-V2X-enabled vest for workers. These vests will be able to warn workers of approaching cars, and also warn drivers of the presence of construction workers nearby on the digital instrument cluster, as they are often difficult to see even in marked construction zones. This system will also be able to provide greater safety to work crews not operating in a marked construction zone, but are making small repairs to road infrastructure in utility trucks, with minimal signage.
This is no small matter, as in Virginia alone there are on average over seven crashes per day involving road work zones.
“VDOT is excited to support the further exploration of C-V2X technology, deployed both in vehicles and in infrastructure,” said Cathy McGhee, Virginia’s Director of Transportation Research and Innovation. “We continually seek opportunities to apply technology in ways that provide safety and mobility benefits for Virginia roadway users and joint efforts like this are incredibly valuable.”
If it feels like there are some significant barriers to implementation of even the in-car traffic light notifications… that’s because there are some significant barriers to implement in-car traffic light notifications. For one thing, this is still a technology requiring more than just in-car software, because it relies upon monitoring the positions of cars in relation to intersections with lights. Right now, even Audi’s Traffic Light Information (TLI) service operates in 35 major cities, covering about 35,000 intersections. Needless to say, one brand’s very modern vehicles and 35 U.S. cities leaves a lot of cars and intersections out, as with any new piece of tech, but the technology also relies on individual jurisdictions equipping intersections with this capability.
In this sense it’s very different than something like SiriusXM traffic, which can simply pool individual vehicle data to a cloud and send back a picture of hopelessly slow traffic up ahead. This makes traffic light information systems dependent upon cities and states installing hardware and software on a local level.
And one reason this is happening in Virginia first is because VDOT is a modern, unified agency when it comes to implementing new traffic technologies. It’s far easier to do it in some regions than in others. So a lot of different things have to come together for drivers to benefit even from Audi’s Traffic Light Information service.
And we also have to realize that even if all states installed these systems at every intersection, and all automakers adopted a version of Audi’s Traffic Light Information system and the road worker warning system, there would always be older cars left out of the loop. Audi itself is realistic about this, and doesn’t simply take the view that this makes older vehicles obsolete — the goal is increasing safety for drivers and road workers a step at a time.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic even if C-V2X technology is in its infancy. If a single automaker could make something happen in 15,000 intersections in a relatively short period, then a dozen automakers adopting technology of this type could cover all the major cities in the country. We’ll be seeing more of this tech in Audi and Volkswagen Group vehicles in the near future.