- General Motors has patented a system that would use GPS as part of a car's stop/start system, making it more intelligent about when it shuts off the engine.
- The system would have situational awareness to be able to tell the difference between a car stopped in heavy interstate traffic and one stopped at a stop sign and adjust the stop/start system's behavior accordingly.
- This patent has the potential to alleviate annoyance in cars equipped with the fuel-saving technology.
If you own a car that was made within approximately the past five years and is equipped with an automatic transmission, chances are high that you have a vehicle equipped with a stop/start system. The chance that you find this system annoying at times is also quite high; many drivers complain about how intrusive the system can be, cutting out power at every stoplight and annoying the occupants inside the vehicle. We spotted a patent dated October 29, filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by General Motors, with a clever solution to curb some of the complaints people have about the system. It uses location devices and cameras to analyze the car's surroundings to determine if the system should be activated.
A stop/start system is a clever fuel-saving device that, as you might have deduced from the name, starts and stops the engine. When the engine gets up to the proper temperature, it becomes more fuel-efficient to shut the engine off and restart it than leave it idling over a period of time when the car is stopped, like at a stoplight. For city drivers who experience a lot of stop-and-go traffic, this fuel-saving measure can save gas and a small but measurable amount of money, but it might also make you lose your patience. (Also, critically, it nets the automaker improved EPA fuel-economy ratings.) Having the engine shudder off and on and off and on is undeniably annoying, especially when it happens every block. Most stop/start systems are designed to activate when the car is at a complete stop, and the driver's foot is on the brake pedal with the transmission in drive. As long as certain conditions are met—sufficient battery charge and the engine up to temperature—the engine will shut off and start again when the driver's foot is removed from the brake pedal.
It's great in concept, but in practice, even the slightest amount of movement of the driver's foot from the brake pedal can start the engine again. As a result, many drivers choose to turn off their automatic stop/start feature, but others must suffer without the capability to turn off the system as some cars—many GM models, in fact—lack the feature to do so.
GM's patent shows that the automaker believes the use of GPS, cameras, and machine learning can make the stop/start feature less intrusive and situationally smarter. It uses existing automatic stop/start system technology but adds another layer of artificial intelligence programming to the equation. The car's onboard computer will use GPS to determine the situation: Is the car in a parking lot trying to park, or in a traffic jam on the interstate? If the car is moving along the interstate during rush hour, the cameras will be able to inform the system that traffic volume is high, and GPS will be able to determine that the location is on a major interstate. From this information, along with the speed of the car, the system will make a choice on if and when to engage the automatic stop/start system—for example, preventing an undesirable parking-lot stop/start. Since the patent calls for machine learning, it will learn from the various situations it encounters, based on how often the car moves and how often the system is activated in each location at a particular time with certain surroundings. It's similar in this regard to the new C8 Corvette's smart front-axle lift system, which can be programmed to automatically lift in certain locations based on driver input and GPS tracking.
C/D tests dozens of cars each week, and many have stop/start systems. A large percentage of those systems just aren't that great, prompting many staff members to turn them off. Until GM's patent becomes a reality and makes its way to the mass market, we'll probably be hitting that button. Here's another advantage to manual-transmission cars, which are far less likely to have automatic stop/start systems.
But a better, smarter system that has the potential to save more fuel and convince more people to keep it enabled is a great idea.
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