Vehicle device feeds back real time driving data to motorists

Engineers have developed a black box for road vehicles that integrates a host of driving data, including fuel efficiency, engine performance, safety and accident analysis.

Importantly, the device provides real-time feedback to drivers using efficiency ‘mood lights’, along with the option of more detailed analysis for download later on.

The device is being developed by Skalene Technologies of Cambridge, with backing from the Technology Strategy Board.

‘The first round of design was a very general one — we didn’t focus on anything in particular, so we had in mind black boxes for event recording and recovering data after an accident and went from there,’ company director Martin Horrod told The Engineer.

The device records 30 parameters — such as speed, fuel level, airbag status, number of revs and the motion of the car — 100 times a second.

It plugs into the onboard diagnostics port between the steering wheel and centre console, and uses bespoke algorithms to analyse data drawn from it. In addition, the box itself incorporates accelerometers and gyroscopes for 3D motion sensing.

For the efficiency feedback, the colour of the mood light is determined by combining data from the car, such as engine revs and speed, with the output of the motion sensors. Various schemes are possible but the most common will be a summary of driving quality over the previous few seconds. A red display will be reserved for the most extreme situations.

Meanwhile, the data-storage feature can handle up to 12 months of continuous driving data available for wireless download.

‘If you’ve got a five-speed gearbox then you’d get five nice curves of speed versus revs, which shows acceleration and how far you go up in each gear. It’s a very useful graph, as you can see if you’re slipping the clutch too much in certain gears,’ Horrod said.

The device is now being tested by the fleet vehicles of a construction firm next to Skalene in Cambridge.

‘The way that works is, we download the data then run a piece of software and put in some thresholds for what we would term as adequate driving and flag up any excessive styles,’ Horrod said.