Green means go, red means stop -- this much 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. In reality, however, you might find yourself wondering if you can blow through without getting a ticket or smashing into another vehicle. And if the driver behind you is dead set on getting through, then stopping could get you rear-ended.
Traffic engineers call this scenario the dilemma zone, but Audi's Travolution device aims to take most of the suspense out of approaching an intersection. 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.
With Travolution, communication between the car and traffic light is a two-way street. The system allows vehicles to actually change an upcoming light to green if there's no opposing traffic. While this might sound like cheating to some drivers, it's just another aspect of traffic lights as traffic managers, not traffic limiters. After all, if the light's red for no reason, why shouldn't it change for you?
Of course, Travolution compatibility drops down to zero once you leave the test streets of Ingolstadt. This fact drives home one of the problems raised by the system: 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. Just because Travolution tells you to go a certain speed, doesn't mean you have to. And what about other vehicles? 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. Most scenarios predict a relationship very similar to that between Travolution vehicles and intelligent traffic lights: Vehicles will communicate with the larger intelligent traffic system, effectively becoming a part of it. In the meantime, however, modern drivers will need to stay sharp, even if the vehicles and traffic lights are getting smarter.
Explore the links below to learn more about driving technology.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
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