What’s your gas mileage like these days? With fuel as cheap as it’s been in a decade, chances are you’re not focused on mpgs. It’s cheaper than ever to bury the pedal and the roads are wide open thanks to COVID. While you may not feel the cost in dollars, the cost to the environment is a real dilemma. Researchers at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) recently proposed a plan that could deliver a whopping 20% improvement to mpgs.
“Hypermiling” is the popular term for trying to get the most mpg possible from any vehicle. By simply changing driving habits, you can in theory see improvements of 15% or more. Some take it to extremes by trying to draft larger vehicles or inflating tires above spec. These techniques can get dangerous quickly and consumer reports has even run tests on the subject. The conclusion is that, besides driving slowly and using cruise control, hypermiling techniques aren’t worth it. Drivers are more at risk for an accident when their sole focus is mpg. We are the weak link!
Leaving 15%+ efficiency on the table is unfortunate. Automotive R&D budgets are in the millions of dollars for even a 0.1% efficiency gain. Researchers at SwRI have a brilliant plan to save you from yourself. They’re going to put a robot in the loop and let your car do the hypermiling for you. They’ve shown an improvement of up to 20% without any changes to the vehicle drivetrain!
The Internet Of Things (IOT) Future
This dream relies on Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to traffic lights (V2I) connectivity. As 5G networks come online, your car will know when the next light is going to change or when a car in front of you is going to turn left. This data is compared with the real-time traffic and improved mapping that is already available.
The cloud of real-time data allows SwRI to improve total trip economy via several techniques.
- Eco-Driving – Leverage V2V and V2I to minimize accelerations and generate an energy-efficient speed profile.
- Eco-Routing – Compare navigational data to vehicle engine efficiency to find the most efficient (not always quickest!) route.
- Driver Speed Advisory – SwRI is working on a driver advisory system that integrates into your existing navigation.
- Traffic Simulated Integrated Chassis Dynamometer – Data on how emissions and mpg change with driving load/conditions will be essential, so each car must be tested extensively.
- Powertrain Centric Solutions – The computer in your car will actually be able to change your engine mapping based on the road ahead. Hybrids like the Prius can take even more advantage of this by smartly storing energy in the battery for later use.
All these strategies add up to significant savings. You can learn more on SwRI’s surprisingly understandable webinar HERE.
As interesting as the webinar is, I’m sure you have car videos to get back to, so here’s the gist: a massive optimization algorithm pulls in data from traffic patterns, route options, vehicle status, etc… and determines the most energy-efficient path to your destination. Your car will smartly try to avoid braking or accelerating whenever possible. It will plan to keep your engine or hybrid drive running as efficiently as possible. In semi-autonomous vehicles, your car will have more control, but the system can also work by suggesting the proper path and speed to follow.
It will be a few years before V2V and V2I technology is ready, but some of these strategies will be possible much sooner. This is a great win using largely existing technology to make a massive impact on emissions.
Driving Thrifty vs Driving Pleasure
Now before you get too excited, think about what you love about driving. I bet that includes acceleration and speed – both enemies of fuel economy. Sadly, the laws of physics don’t bend and you’ll have to give up some farfegnugen if you want to save the planet. Fortunately, you can always turn your hypermiling autopilot off when you find that twisty stretch of pavement.
While you wait for your connected car to become a reality, here’s an even easier fuel saver that will improve your 0-60 time TODAY. Take that silly tent off your car! All that roof-top bling is costing you weight and aerodynamic drag. Leave the racks and gear at home when you’re not actually using them. It’s a win for you, the planet, and your gear!