Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You’ve got mail – and an overloaded muffler

I got a pedometer one time with my $5 salad from McDonald’s.

I know – it’s the ultimate contradiction – kind of like having a bachelor’s party at Showbiz Pizza.

Anyway, this pedometer would tick off daily footsteps no matter where you went, adding up to thousands of steps each day.

But there was a chink in the armor.

I found the pedometer would tick off footsteps if I tapped my foot, or turned in my office chair. Unless you reset the thing for a specific walk, it couldn’t be counted on for accuracy.

I was reminded of the pedometer while reading a recent magazine article about the future of emissions testing.

In the Nov. 26, 2007, edition of Fortune Magazine, Lisa Palmer wrote about a new wireless emissions data system recently developed by engineer Pradeep Tripathi.

According to Fortune, Tripathi has patented, tested and marketed a device as small as a sticky-pad that connects to a car’s ECM, collecting emission data from cars and transmitting that data to a wireless network.

Palmer compared the system to the E-ZPass toll system, because data is sent as cars drive past a remote onboard diagnostic access point.

“If a car is out of compliance, the owner receives a warning by mail, e-mail, or fax and typically has 45 days to fix the problem,” Palmer wrote.

Cars that keep emissions in check would get their inspection sticker mailed to them.

The system isn’t necessarily all bad, though it does remind one of the same 1984-like feelings our society has been faced with in recent years.

Because the remote onboard diagnostic access points will note a vehicle’s passing, you wonder whether the device will be used like E-ZPass has been used in divorces and other legal proceedings.

Also, what happens if your ECM acts up? I’ve had multiple cars with “check engine light” issues that needed only a button on the engine to be reset. Do we get four emails, a fax and two letters everyday before we’re forced to make a mechanic’s appointment?

On the plus side, most truckers want their truck’s running in good shape and don’t want to breathe in greenhouse gases or any gases, so a constant on-board diagnostic system might be appreciated by some.

Any trucker or even an automobile driver will tell you how annoying it is to make appointments for annual or bi-annual emission tests required by state governments.

Such a system could save money in the long run, and keep our air clean.

But no one wants an overpriced, ineffective measurement, whether it costs $5 or $5 million.