What if a patent that could make your car aware of the
environment to help improve your city’s air quality?
by James Kozloski, Computational and Applied Neuroscience,
Research Staff Member, IBM Research
Imagine you’re driving into New York City. It’s a summer
day. Sunny, hot… and the smog is bad. The city knows the pollution is a
problem, and wants your help to abate it. So, as you drive through the EZPass
toll on the Triborough Bridge, you – or more accurately, your hybrid car – gets
a message asking “Can the City of New York switch your powertrain to ‘all
electric power’ while you’re visiting?” If you say “yes,” your toll fee will be
That’s the concept behind patent 8,781,668: create a
location-based vehicle powertrain regulation system.
had the idea while riding around Bangkok. Many of the taxi drivers can switch
their fuel sources from standard petrol (regular unleaded gas) to cheaper
liquefied petroleum (such as propane or butane). Why not have software
automatically make a switch based on environmental conditions? That’s
essentially what the Thai cabbies were doing manually to save a few baht. The
system we invented does it to save on automobile emissions based on location.
partnership between your car and the environment
|James Kozloski on a family vacation in Bangkok, Thailand|
You and I don’t necessarily know the ozone rating or smog
levels as we commute to and from work. But sensors do. Sensors that send data
to weather stations, and city officials. If our cars, in turn, have sensors that
picked up this data, and could communicate with these third parties, our car’s
powertrain could adjust its emissions while driving.
Currently, only plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
can make this kind of auto-powertrain switch (unless you count taxicabs from
Thailand). But think about driving around in a congested city. You’re probably
not driving in a way to notice the difference between a gas-powered versus all electric
engine. So, with your permission, why not let the environment – via a sensor –
tell your car to stay on “electric” while you’re in city limits?
Today’s hybrids work only to maximize the vehicle’s
performance based on what the driver does. This invention just adds external considerations
to the vehicle’s efficiency calculations. This means retrofitting is doable by
adding a sensor or two, and updating the onboard software to respond to their
measurements. And in the patent’s current form, the driver would still have to
agree to allow any of these outside adjustments. (So don’t worry, nothing will
take over your car!) Just passing through via the highway? Say “no” to the
all-electric switch at the toll booth.
PHEV and city it drives through is a customer
In attempting to determine the patent’s potential impact,
we calculated that about 30 percent of the cars on the road need to use
alternative fuels to make a significant dent in city smog levels. While the
hybrid market share currently hovers around 3
percent, PHEVs continue to grow, and J.D. Power predicts that one-third
of all vehicles will use some kind of alternative fuel by 2025 (17.5% being
PHEVs). And some cities may reach a practical number much sooner. As civic and
other government environmental agencies get a clearer picture of emission
levels, this patent could deliver a small, but significant, way citizens can
help improve a pollution problem.
pain index” shows that bad traffic isn’t going away. So while the patent doesn’t
solve a lousy commute, it can help make it cleaner.
Podcast: James Kozloski explains patent #7,781,668
More about IBM's 2014 patent leadership
Labels: invention, patent, smarter cities, smarter environment, smarter traffic