GPS moves cars to go greener

U. ILLINOIS (US) — In addition to the fastest and shortest routes, a new software interface that works like a GPS is able to calculate the most fuel-efficient route, too.

“Green GPS” technology runs on cell phones, which link to a car’s computer using an inexpensive, off-the-shelf wireless adapter that works in all cars manufactured since 1996. The car’s onboard diagnostics system uploads information about engine performance and fuel efficiency to the phone, which uses the data to compute the greenest route.

In preliminary experiments, following the technology’s route saves 13 percent more fuel over the fastest route and 6 percent over the shortest. The initial test was conducted on 16 cars of various types that collectively drove for 1,000 miles in Urbana-Champaign, a city of 170,000.

“Currently at least 30 percent of total energy in the United States is spent on cars,” says Tarek Abdelzaher, associate professor of computer science at the University of Illinois. “By saving even five percent of that cost, we can save the same amount of total energy spent on the nation’s entire information technology infrastructure.”

A grant through the National Science Foundation is funding a large-scale deployment of the service via the University of Illinois’ automobile fleet. The Office of Naval Research is funding research related to the technology’s networking component and graduate student Hossein Ahmadi and others are collaborating with IBM through the company’s “Smarter Planet” initiative.

The units will be installed on up to 200 vehicles in the Urbana-Champaign fleet, including full-size vans that could be carrying 1,000 pounds or more in tools and equipment.

“The less money we can spend on fuel, the more money we can direct toward maintaining other things on campus,” says Pete Varney, director of Transportation & Automotive Services.

A social network of drivers who can share information about their cars will, in the future, allows drivers who don’t have the technology to use the service based on data collected from cars with the same make, model, and year.

The collaboration with IBM could open up opportunities to test the service in heavily urban areas with greater stop-and-go traffic, Abdelzaher says.

“The preliminary results gave us hope that if we deploy it, it will be useful. If we can minimize brown energy and maximize green energy, we reduce our carbon footprint.”

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