A tag attached to the windscreen could help end arguments over damaged hire cars.
Product design and development company Cambridge Consultants says drivers will be able to simply drop off their car if no damage is detected by its DropTag Drive system.
“From a day-to-day point of view, the hire car companies want to know if you have had low-speed bumps, scrapes and so on,” said product manager Tom Lawrie-Fussey (pictured below).
DropTag Drive mainly relies on signals derived from a 3-axis accelerometer of the type found in smartphones, capable of detecting accelerations of up to 12G.
The 25g tag is attached to the windscreen, which then acts as a sounding board. “Vibrations are picked up and amplified by the glass and transferred very readily to the DropTag, giving us a very rich source of information,” Lawrie-Fussey said.
“The fact that the tag is so small and light means that there is effectively no damping of the vibrations, and no extraneous or misleading movements.”
Layered signal processing algorithms filter the rich, broad-spectrum vibration and acceleration information to determine what is happening to the car. The system can detect low-speed car park collisions, down to 2mph impacts.
“We can even tell when the car doors are shut, from which we wake up the tag, and move into a state where we look for an engine start and/or vehicle motion event,” Lawrie-Fussey added. “The tag also self-learns its own orientation, so that if there is a major impact event, both the severity and direction of impact is recorded in high resolution.”
Information is relayed to the driver and the car hire company via a smartphone app. Systems on smartphones, such as GPS, can be used to provide further information, meaning they do not need to be replicated on the tag, helping to keep production costs down.
Not all drivers will want to provide such a large amount of information, Lawrie-Fussey said, but motorists could be offered money-off vouchers or cheaper pricing in future if they are willing to do so, making the technology an opt-in system.
The hire car version is part of the company’s DropTag family.
The base DropTag platform has a range of other sensors, primarily for other applications such as logistics and machinery condition monitoring, which include temperature, humidity, barometric pressure and even a high G (400G) sensor. DropTag Drive only requires the 12G acceleration sensor.
The sensors are low cost as they are manufactured in the hundreds of millions for smartphones and other consumer applications.
Large-scale production of more than 100,000 units throughout the DropTag family should mean the cost works out at £1 a tag each month, Lawrie-Fussey said. The product is already in volume production but no car hire company has signed up yet.
The condition monitoring technology can be used in the logistics sector, allowing customers to check whether a parcel has been dropped in transit.
It can be used to monitor temperature, vibration, humidity and shock in a pharmaceutical package’s journey to a hospital or doctor’s surgery.
The technology can also be used to monitor normal system behaviour on equipment, so that alerts can be issued if it starts acting abnormally.
Sensors for specific uses can be added to the tags during production, helping to keep costs down. “We designed the tag with that in mind from day one,” Lawrie-Fussey said.
Universal coin-cell batteries are used and should last more than a year.