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Drivers' smartphones may be clue to road roughness
Last Updated: Tue, April 16, 2019
What's more ubiquitous among truck drivers than the smartphone?
Researchers at MIT have found a way to turn a driver's lowly smartphone into a tool that they tout as being able to reduce fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent, monitor tire pressure and even monitor wheel alignment.
That's a lot to ask from one smartphone app! But, that's the goal of a team of researchers.
Trucking companies are already enjoying fuel cost savings of 5 to 7 percent from aerodynamic attachments on trailers like skirts and trailer tails. But these attachments are costly and subject to damage and/or misuse.
That's where the MIT research comes in. MIT research assistant Jake Roxon has teamed up with Shahd Nara, a student at Harvard University, to create an app that uses every smartphone's accelerometer to measure the quality of the road as the truck drives over it.
With enough data input the app, called Carbin, would report back to the driver to guide him or her on the most fuel-efficient route.
How it works
The team is boosting the accelerometer feature of smartphones to increase their sensitivity so much that they can detect the slightest defect in pavement as it rolls beneath the wheels. The phone could be mounted on a stable, fixed platform anywhere in the truck.
When enough data has been sensed by the phone, about three minutes worth, the software will operate to cut out extraneous data sensed by movement of the driver or occupants within the truck, or movement from the trailer, etc. In practice, it would be like what a noise-cancelling headset does.
Roxon explained that road roughness is expressed in an IRI, or International Roughness Index. The index indicates not only road quality, but also how a bad road contributes to fuel consumption.
“If you are interested in a road’s roughness, the app can display IRI; if you are interested in the fuel consumption the app can show you if, say, 20 to 25 percent of your fuel consumption comes from a poor-quality road — which is totally possible in a city,”
Roxon and the team will build in the ability to calculate road quality in real time. Eventually, they expect to be able to integrate the app with other road apps like Apple Maps or Google Maps to route drivers along the most fuel-efficient roads.
“On average, a semi-truck in the U.S. consumes around 20,000 gallons of diesel per year and the average diesel price in 2018 was $3.19. If you multiply one by the other, you are looking at $63,600 per year per year in fuel costs,” says Roxon, “Now, with our app, we could safely identify 5 percent to 10 percent savings for these drivers. That becomes over $6,000 dollars for just one truck.”
Besides the fuel savings employed by routing away from bad roads Carbin could also be used as a tire-pressure and wheel-alignment monitor. The app's use of the phone's accelerometer would be sensitive enough to measure the difference in the way the vehicle's low-pressure tires or bad wheel alignment affect the motion of the vehicle on the road.
And, as every truck driver knows, correct tire pressure and wheel alignment are directly related to fuel efficiency, besides it being unsafe to drive with improperly filled tires.
Some trucks and trailers are now being outfitted with tire pressure monitors, but the team says these are both expensive and often unreliable.
The team also envisions state and city agencies being able to use the app to gather real-time data on the quality of their road surfaces. Right now, government agencies do use sophisticated technology to monitor the quality of the roads, but it is expensive and not being used by jurisdictions with smaller budgets.
Whereas the Carbin app could fit into just about every budget.
Carbin is expected to roll out soon, and it will offer users a suite of options to save money, track excess emissions, and understand the carbon footprint of their infrastructure. They are working in collaboration with CARB and CalTrans and have run tests for 50,000 miles in California.
What is International Roughness Index
Begun in the early 1990s the program mandates that each state report its annual IRI to the Federal Highway Administration.
This results in a database used to monitor the national roadway system. Each state's information is compared to the nation as a whole with a threshold range indicating which roads and highways need to be included in repair or maintenance programs.
In the United States these thresholds can range from acceptable at 96 inches per mile to 170 inches per mile. Less than 95 inches per mile is considered a good road segment. Greater than 170 inches per mile gets a poor rating.
This PDF contains IRI data for 2017 by state interstate highways, both urban and rural.
Sources: MIT News, Carbin, Scientific and Academic Publishing
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