Hybrid van driver alert system helps companies cut fuel bills

A system that alerts van drivers and their bosses when they’re driving hybrid vehicles badly is helping companies cut their fuel bills.

British company Ashwoods Automotive developed ‘Lightfoot’ to teach people to drive hybrid vans more efficiently, using a traffic-light system and verbal warnings to alert the driver when he or she could improve performance.

By tapping into the vehicle’s electronic control system, Lightfoot can advise the driver how to accelerate or when to change gear but also determine when a driver is wasting fuel, for example by accelerating unnecessarily fast.

If a driver makes the same error three times, the system can record a penalty that is included in an email report to the fleet manager every week or month. This can be used to encourage the driver to compete for the title of best driver.

Ashwoods’ business development manager Martin Kadhim said the company developed the system so customers using its retrofittable hybrid drivetrain technology, such as BT and Royal Mail, could improve their fuel efficiency further.

‘We developed the hybrid to make the vehicle as efficient as possible,’ he told The Engineer. ‘Now we’ve developed Lightfoot to make the driver as efficient as possible.’

In order to create the hybrid drivetrain system, the company had to develop computer algorithms that would tell it when to charge the system and when to release that energy to assist the engine.

Lightfoot uses these algorithms and the system that allows the vehicle’s components to talk to each other (the CAN bus) to determine whether a driver is driving as efficiently as he or she could.

‘The vehicle knows exactly how it should be driven,’ said Kadhim. ‘We take that information in the form of millions of messages in the vehicle’s CAN bus system, take what we need and display that to the driver.’

Previous telematic systems have focused on improving the safety or efficiency of drivers’ behaviour using GPS tracking to produce reports. But Kadhim said Lightfoot was different in that it provided instant feedback and was therefore more likely to have a lasting impact on driving style.

BT is one of the companies already using the technology. A spokesperson for the firm said: ‘We have found [Lightfoot] to be a useful tool when used in combination with other methods of delivering increased efficiency.’

Ashwoods intends to adapt the system for fully electric vehicles in order to help tackle range anxiety — the fear of running out of electricity mid-journey — and hopes to sell it to individual drivers looking to cut their fuel bills.