a compendium of tech stuff

Aug 5, 2009

On 8:09 PM by Lalith Varun   No comments

A wave of “green” is washing over Ingolstadt: after two years of research, the “Travolution” team has developed a trend-setting concept to improve traffic infrastructure. Investment amounts to a total of about €1.2 million. AUDI AG and its venture partners presented the results recently, with further joint pilot projects to follow. “Travolution paved the way for innovative traffic management and the result is a functioning prototype for the traffic control of the future.”

The drive starts out like any other, just a quick trip across town to pick up some groceries. You drive effortlessly through the first green light and somehow drive past the next intersection as well. To your growing amazement, you easily make the third traffic light, too. Will this streak of traffic luck hold out? Will you arrive at your destination without stopping for a single light? You may have a great feel for the road, but you can't talk to the traffic lights. Or can you? In the German city of Ingolstadt, something peculiar is happening. Certain luxury vehicles have been observed gliding effortlessly through intersections. Even when they're forced to stop, they never seem to have to wait long. Who are these mysterious drivers and what allows their cars to cut though the municipal traffic system? It's no coincidence that the vehicles are all Audis, and that the automotive manufacturer is headquartered in Ingolstadt. The Bavarian city is currently playing host to an experiment in the future of driving called Travolution. With Audi's Travolution system, intelligent traffic lights talk to each other and cars talk to traffic lights, all to the benefit of human drivers.

As more and more vehicles take to the streets, cities face greater traffic congestion -- to the point where simply building larger roads is no longer a valid fix. Instead of adding more lanes, traffic engineers and scientists have worked to create intelligent transportation systems. Instead of simply managing vehicles at a specific intersection or on a particular road, the system would regulate a city's collective traffic flow in all its stops and surges. On the infrastructure side, intelligent traffic lights play a major role in keeping vehicles moving along, and feature prominently in Audi's Travolution system. The Travolution system also features an intelligent vehicle component, and this is where the system really appeals to people. Green means go, red means stop – this is simple. But what exactly does a yellow traffic light mean to the average driver? Most driving instructors will tell you it means to come to a complete stop if you can safely, otherwise, proceed into the intersection cautiously. Traffic engineers call this scenario the dilemma zone. A Travolution-equipped vehicle receives signals from intelligent traffic lights in the area, informing it exactly when the light will change. The vehicle's onboard computer then calculates exactly what speed the driver needs to maintain to continue through the light without stopping the vehicle. The computer then relates this information to the driver, via the Audi multimedia interface (MMI) infotainment system. The driver might need to maintain a slightly higher or lower speed to make the light, but he or she won't have to come to a complete stop. This doesn't just cut down on driver irritation, it cuts down on fuel consumption and exhaust associated with accelerating back up from zero.

Most intersections don't have intelligent traffic lights, and it will require a great deal of time and money to install them. On top of this, there's vehicle compatibility to consider. Plus, even if you fully update every street with the latest technology and sync it up to a network, you still have to worry about human error and good-old fashioned driver stupidity. Obeying Travolution might not be the best idea if the vehicle in front of you just came to an abrupt stop to avoid running over a squirrel. Many futurists think that driving technology such as Travolution will eventually lead to the existence of automated highways, where the opportunity for human error is negated entirely. So let’s hope that this experimental technology gets a nod from the German government and it soon spreads all over the world to reduce the wastage of time and fuel when caught in an unsympathetic traffic snarl.


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