Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Wed 27th Jul, 2011

Every car should have one

What I want is a small device that has a fuel flow meter suitable for use in a car or motorbike, and a digital radio (e.g. bluetooth) to connect to it. It can run of the car's 12V power system, and simply reports the amount of fuel used every second in serial form.

Then I want a piece of software, say on my android phone, which reads information from the fuel meter and GPS coordinates. It then records how much fuel is used and where the car was at the end of that second. This can be used simply to work out how much fuel is being used, or a kilometres per litre or miles per gallon figure based on the current distance travelled. The software can then show you your average fuel consumption and km/l 'score' per trip.

But what constitutes a trip? Well, the software can work that out fairly easily - the engine is consuming fuel constantly while it's on, and people usually start it before the start of the trip and turn it off at the end of the trip. A fairly simple check of start and end points could then group your trips by their purpose - going to work, going shopping, etc - and report your average and best score for each journey of the same purpose. You could then also compare fuel efficiency when going at different times and using different connecting roads to determine, on average, which paths and times were more efficient uses of your petrol.

But journeys often start the same way - if you live in a cul-de-sac, you always drive to the end of it to get any further, for example. So looking at the paths can then break those into segments that are common, and you can be scored on your individual performance per segment. This also means that if you drop into the shops on your way to work then this counts for two or more separate segments rather than one. The algorithm could both find short segments - roads you always went along and never deviated from - and long segments that you occasionally deviated from but mostly drove in one go.

For many journeys there's more than one way to get there, and after a period of time the software can tell you which route was the most optimal and even possibly when to drive it to get the best efficiency. This would have saved a friend of mine, who had to suffer her father going many different ways between two points on a common journey in Brisbane to determine, over time and in varying traffic, what the most efficient way was. Of course, it can tell you what your best time was and that may be a different route from the most fuel-efficient path.

And then it can start to challenge you. You want to drive to work? How about doing it using less fuel than your best effort so far? It may even be able to tell you specific segments where you can improve - where your fuel efficiency varies widely, or where it is greater than your average over similar terrain. Once you get something that can actually tell you how to improve your fuel efficiency, I think that'll make a lasting difference to how much money people spend on fuel. Classic positive feedback technique.

Finally, a device which would actually offer to provably improve your fuel efficiency.

Sadly, it joins every other device out there being touted by snake oil salesman, because - like them - it doesn't exist.

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