That Audi wants to ask your car where to park

At CES Audi announces car-to-car version of smart-traffic system

Crammed in among the would-be iPad-killers, iPhone killers, expensive accessories was an advancement in IT-driven automotive technology that is actually significant to those of us too dignified, tasteful (or old) to linger and gawk at the legions of pimped-up drift cars with headache-inducing paint jobs and more superpowered subwoofers than horsepower.

Audi released a new version of its car-to-car wireless networking technology, this time without requiring each car or traffic light to connect to a central server to delivery any benefit. The new version allows peer-to-peer connections among cars and similarly equipped traffic systems, making it possible to roll out the system in much more gradual and less expensive ways.

The Car-2-X WLAN and UMTS networking technology, which Audi began testing in Europe in 2006, is designed to tell traffic signals and other vehicles where it is, how fast it's going and when it is changing lanes.

In addition to receiving data from similarly equipped cars, Car-2-X is designed to let cars, and receive information from traffic systems to reduce traffic tie-ups by doing things like keeping to the ideal speed to hit every green light down a major road, rather than stop, idle and then restart at each one.

Audi estimates reducing idling would reduce CO2 emissions by 15 percent and would save more than 238 million gallons of fuel per year if it were instituted throughout Germany.

In addition to traffic flow, the system would let government- or privately owned applications to use Car-2-X connections to allow automated payments at gas stations and parking garages in the same way many cities use EZPass RFID transponders to let drivers breeze through toll booths.

Less realistic -- or at least less short-term -- are Audi's predictions that Car-2-X and similar automotive networks will drive themselves, allow cars to pass information about slippery roads ahead, impending collisions, or open parking spots so drivers don't have to keep circling the block randomly looking for a space.

Since 2008 Audi and five other German carmakers have been participating in a government-sponsored automated-traffic test area in Frankfurt using 20 networked traffic lights and 400 vehicles. It depends on centralized servers to sync road data.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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