As of this week, drivers of BMWs may be a little less frustrated by traffic lights. No, they don't now have the power to change red lights to green, but they can at least find out how long it'll be before lights change color. This feature comes courtesy of a partnership with Orgeon-based startup Connected Signals, which makes an existing app known as EnLighten.
The app works by connecting online with participating cities' traffic light control systems. This lets it know the cycles on which the different traffic lights operate. Using the phone's GPS, it then determines what light the driver is approaching, plus it checks the system to see how recently that light has changed to green, amber or red.
Based on records of how different lights' cycles are affected by traffic flow at different times of day, it's able to determine approximately how long it will be before the light changes color. This is indicated by a display on the phone's screen, showing the current color of the light along with a countdown to when it should change.
So, what good is that information?
For one thing, drivers approaching intersections will know if they've got time to squeeze through the end of a green light, or if they should just prepare to stop. In order to save gas, they can also time their arrival at an intersection so that the light is green when they get there, keeping them from having to stop and start again. Additionally, when they're stopped at red lights, they'll know if they have time to do things like checking their phone or grabbing a sip of coffee – a chime sounds on the app five seconds before the light turns green, letting them know to stop whatever they're doing.
Psychologically, drivers may also feel just a little more empowered, not being left in the dark about how much longer the current red light will last.
EnLighten is already available for free, for use on an iOS or Android device in any car. With the new BMW deal, however, the app's display will appear on the console of any BMW equipped with the BMW Apps option – an iPhone still needs to be in the car, to actually run the app.
Along with its usual functions, the app also communicates with sensors in the BMW itself. Among other things, this lets it know when the car's left turn indicator has been activated, cueing the app to monitor left turn traffic lights.
Only a few cities are currently EnLighten-compatible, however more are on the way. To check if your city is one of them, see the Connected Signals coverage map.
Audi is currently introducing a similar system in some of its cars.
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