What can cruise control do for the average driver? It can help with fatigue, for starters. It can prevent speeding tickets due to “lead-foot” tendencies. But can it stop at red lights? At a recent NextGen19 event in Berlin, BMW announced that the next generation of its adaptive cruise control system will indeed be able to detect red lights and automatically stop for them. While it may not be full autonomous driving, it’s getting closer. It’s also a way to make use of cruise control in a more urban environment, rather than relegating it to a highway role.
The feature, called Urban Traffic Light Recognition, isn’t a first among automakers, but the technology is still nascent enough to be considered cutting edge for the mass market. The German automaker recently demonstrated the feature during a short road test on the streets of Munich. With the cruise control feature set to 30 kilometers per hour (about 18.6 miles per hour), the test vehicle was able to recognize that a traffic signal was turning yellow, slow down and come to a complete stop for the light when it turned red.
The system uses the same cameras that are already built into virtually all new BMWs today and which can already detect speed limits and pass those on to the cruise control system, according to TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois.
“I saw the system in action during a short drive in a standard 3-Series car with the software update today,” he wrote in a review. “It worked flawlessly in the dense urban traffic of Munich, though this was obviously a pre-planned route that even including a traffic light the company set up specifically for this demo. Whenever the car detected a red light, it gently brought the car to a stop.”
While the system automatically stops the car at a red light, it’s up to the driver to tap the cruise control button to continue when the traffic signal changes back to green. While BMW did indicate that it will be able to update the software of some existing models with the new red-light feature, it did not indicate when it will be available, or to which models of BMW. In the future, said the company, the red-light feature will be built into the hardware of some X5 and X7 models.