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IBM Patents Transportation Technology

IBM's Patent-Pending Traffic Lights Stop Car Engines 423

Posted by Soulskill
from the even-red-lights-are-going-green dept.
theodp writes "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't let your engine idle. The USPTO has just published IBM's patent application for a 'System and Method for Controlling Vehicle Engine Running State at Busy Intersections for Increased Fuel Consumption Efficiency.' Here's how Big Blue explains the invention: 'The present disclosure is directed to a method for managing engines in response to a traffic signal. The method may comprise establishing communications with participating vehicles; responding to a stop status indicated by the traffic signal, further comprising: receiving a position data from each participating vehicles; determining a queue of participating vehicles stopped at the traffic signal; determining a remaining duration of the stop status; sending a stop-engine notification to the list of participating vehicles stopped at the traffic signal when the remaining duration is greater than a threshold of time; responding to a proceed status indicated by the traffic signal, further comprising: sending a start-engine notification to a first vehicle in the queue; calculating an optimal time for an engine of a second vehicle in the queue to start; and sending the start-engine notification to the second vehicle at the optimal time.' IBM notes that 'traffic signals may include, but are not limited to, traffic lights at intersections, railway crossing signals, or other devices for indicating correct moments to stop and to proceed.'"
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IBM's Patent-Pending Traffic Lights Stop Car Engines

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  • Railway crossing? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:17AM (#32314284)

    Hmmm, a computer at a railway crossing that can remotely disable a car's engine. To use the parlance of our times "What could possibly go wrong?"

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jaymz666 (34050)

      combine this with onstar remote stops and do car jackers need any more tools?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, when you try to beat a yellow, you lose power steering and brakes? Lucky.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:25AM (#32314790)

      Of course they go after controlling your engine instead of fixing the problem of the lights not being synchronized and optimized to begin with.

      It's 2010 there is no excuse to drive into every city in the U.S. to stop and sit at every light forever while there are no cars coming from the other direction.

      We should all charge the Government for our wasted time and fuel.

      • Re:Railway crossing? (Score:5, Informative)

        by HeronBlademaster (1079477) <heron@xnapid.com> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @01:52PM (#32315914) Homepage

        On top of that, some cars already do what IBM wants, albeit without actually checking if you're at a stop light, and without potentially giving control of your engine to a remote computer.

        My Civic Hybrid will shut off the engine if you're stopped on level-ish ground for more than a few seconds, as long as you're holding the brakes - as soon as you let go of the brakes, the engine kicks back on. It seems to me that this is a cheaper and more general solution to the problem IBM is trying to solve, since IBM's solution doesn't save any gas if you're sitting at a regular old stop sign for ten minutes waiting for traffic to clear up.

        • Re:Railway crossing? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 24, 2010 @05:07AM (#32321306)

          Your explanation doesn't fully communicate the ingenuity of the automatic engine stop/start system. If the engine just stopped, the additional load on the alternator to recharge the battery after starting could conceivably negate any benefit from the short stops that it would mostly be used for.

          Modern stop/start systems actually use the ECU to halt the engine in a configuration where one or more of the cylinders have a primed and compressed fuel/air mix sitting right there ready to be ignited. All the engine needs to do to start again is give those cylinders spark. No starter motor needed, no energy wasted, and the engine starts almost instantly. It's incredibly smart, one of the few environmental car things which is an improvement in every objectively measurable way. There's no reason not to have it on any car, and that's a rare thing.

          This patent is retarded.

      • by dtmos (447842) * on Sunday May 23, 2010 @03:52PM (#32316870)

        IMHO the biggest problem with traffic lights isn't synchronization; it's the behavior of the drivers. At least in my area the lights are attached to inductive sensors placed in the tarmac, and the way they're supposed to work is that they sense the presence of the car approaching the light and, after a suitable period of wait time hysteresis (which starts from the last time the light switched, and so may already be expired), switch the signals and allow the car to pass.

        Unfortunately, drivers (again, at least in my area) aren't very clueful about the presence of the sensors, and will stop way, way back of the stop bar, before they get to the sensor, or pass over it and stop halfway into the intersection. The sensors are huge, roughly 2m by 8m, so it's not like you have to be precise to hit them, and they are visible as grooved loops in the tarmac just behind the stop bar, but I can't count the number of times I've been stuck behind a long line of cars at a light, with the first car stopped before it got to the sensor. As far as the light can tell, there's nobody stopped at the light, so we wait and wait.

        I've driven with people who have stopped before the sensor and then complained about how poorly the lights are "synchronized." Apparently, traffic light sensors are not common knowledge.

    • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:17PM (#32315206)

      Also, what about ambulances, police, pregnant ladies being rushed to the hospital.

      And what about that STUCK red light at 3am in the morning. (motorists drive in, but they don't drive out).

    • Re:Railway crossing? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RobertM1968 (951074) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:34PM (#32315340) Homepage Journal

      Hmmm, a computer at a railway crossing that can remotely disable a car's engine. To use the parlance of our times "What could possibly go wrong?"

      Besides the possibilities of "what could possibly go wrong?" the simple fact is, I am hoping IBM has done their research on this.

      Some car manufacturers claim that stopping and restarting the engine will use more gas, and cause increased wear on the starter. Others claim it will save as much as 10% in gas and not cause wear on the starter. I wonder where the truth really lies? Jeep recommends (for some of their vehicles) at least 1 minute of idle time expected before one turns off the engine to save gas. The government says (basically) "do it every time" - but the government also says that modern cars only need 20 seconds to warm up to a usable temperature in the winter. For those of you who have an actual temperature gauge in your car, you know that is not true... so I am not sure how accurate the rest of the government's data/speculation is (or quite simply, they did not test enough cars).

      That aside, there are other problems I have not seen mentioned, for instance dead batteries. If you are a city driver, and barely get over engine idle rpm during your drive, constantly stopping and restarting your engine can drain your battery. There are times I've had to drive in NYC and been on a two way main street going against the flow of traffic lights, meaning I've gotten stuck at a bunch of traffic lights during my trip. As anyone who has had engine (or lack of fuel) problems has noticed, if one repeatedly tries to start their engine, the battery will eventually get below "restart power levels" - meaning a bunch of people stuck at a traffic light without enough power to restart their engine. Add a cold winter day into the mix and this definitely should apply. As it is, I have experienced "uber cold" days on my visits to upstate New York where it sounded like if I had two or three attempts to start my engine, I would be lucky. Fortunately, my car only requires one. But driving a few hundred feet, shutting it off and trying again, then repeating that 5-10 times in under a mile would probably run me into problems as the car wouldnt have been running long enough at high enough RPM (1800?) to (a) recharge the battery enough for another start at those temperatures and/or (b) heat the battery enough for it to be able to deliver more starts.

      Also, unless starter technology has changed recently, the starter has a cool-down period between start attempts. Something mentioned in only a few car manuals simply because one starts the car, drives it, then shuts it off - usually exceeding the cooldown period. If you are needing to stop at a traffic light every city block, and restart your engine, then chances are, you aren't reaching the end of the cooldown cycle. The more the starter is turned on without reaching it, the hotter it gets. Anyone who has played with an electric motor knows what happens if they overheat.

      And as for the engine wear part of the equation, as anyone who knows a little physics can tell you, starting an engine does wear it more than normal driving... something to do with overcoming inertia (ie: the massive flywheel, and the internal inertia of the engine itself). Yes, above-normal driving (and to a much lesser extent, normal driving) still has similar factors to overcome, but there are other differences involved, namely that the flywheel is before the torque converter or clutch and the torque converter/clutch "absorbs" some of the "stand-still" force being overcome in driving/accelerating (ie: not as jarring to the engine - in comparison to "wrenching" a standing still flywheel into motion).

      And of course, all of the above could entirely be speculation... but that's not really the point that matters... the point that matters is, it's all based off one or more combinations of vehicle manufacturer information, various studies on the matter, and various real world applications of the situation (cold s

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dr. Hellno (1159307)
        From the application:

        Drivers who do switch off their engines may do so inefficiently. For example, a driver may switch off the engine, only to start it up a short time later. In such cases, more fuel may be consumed in restarting the engine.

        So it seems like they're at least aware of the intricacies involved in maximizing fuel efficiency. Their idea seems to be that, if the signal is on a timer, they can use that information (which is unavailable to the driver) to maximize efficiency.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by RobertM1968 (951074)

          From the application:

          Drivers who do switch off their engines may do so inefficiently. For example, a driver may switch off the engine, only to start it up a short time later. In such cases, more fuel may be consumed in restarting the engine.

          So it seems like they're at least aware of the intricacies involved in maximizing fuel efficiency. Their idea seems to be that, if the signal is on a timer, they can use that information (which is unavailable to the driver) to maximize efficiency.

          It is also unavailable to them in many cases, as there are still a bunch of mechanical, and electro-mechanical (but not computerized) timers that do not provide that data.

          Then there's a matter of (the car) being able to determine what data to pay attention to. Is that signal from the traffic light I am approaching? The one I just passed? The one a block ahead?

          Or of course, if it's just based on the assumption that the signal is on a timer and "gee, it's red" then there isnt a way to know how long it's b

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bengie (1121981)

        I'm assuming this would only be used for vehicles that already have some version of this feature already implemented. Mazda plans on rolling out a tech that causes the engine to stop at the peak of compression. This way, when the vehicle is ready to go again, all it does is spark and it's instantly running again. Obviously, hybrids will have no issues at all with this.

        As for safety, they could easily only have the engine shut-down if at the lights IF the break is being pressed. If the gas is pressed or the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AmberBlackCat (829689)
        Well the dead battery thing would definitely have been a problem for me. My battery died and I had to get the car jumpstarted. That meant I had to make it to the battery shop using only the power from my alternator. A red light that kills engines would have left me stuck at the red light.
    • Re:Railway crossing? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Metabolife (961249) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:46PM (#32315440)

      Meh, I'm still waiting for the traffic light that controls all the cars by using an LED and manages the cars to all go near full speed through the intersection without collision

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:20AM (#32314298) Journal

    ...if you don't ignore the fact that this is a blatant case of "patenting the goal". The patent is "here's a bunch of ideas that might work to control fuel consumption at signals, we claim them all."

    • by Arker (91948)

      For prior art we can claim a paper I did in elementary school about 30 years ago, if anyone can find it.

      Patents are completely broken.

      • For prior art we can claim a paper I did in elementary school about 30 years ago, if anyone can find it.

        You wrote about networking traffic lights and cars, and applying queuing theory to increase fuel efficiency? Really? In elementary school?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Runaway1956 (1322357)

          I see nothing wrong with his claim. I never toyed with that particular idea, but I toyed with similar ideas. How about if the traffic light sent a radio signal to automatically make your car stop, to prevent you running a red light? That was my idea in 5th grade. And, it's been more than 40 years ago that I was in elementary school!

        • by Arker (91948)

          Yep. It's the most obvious thing in the world once you have all the components - computers, radio communication, traffic lights, and cars. I did a simulation/concept demonstration on my old Sinclair too.

          I would certainly bet I was not the first to think of it either. Fuel efficiency was much more of a mantra in the 70s than the 80s, and though computer penetration was significantly less they certainly existed then too.

      • by Cassini2 (956052)

        For prior art we can claim a paper I did in elementary school about 30 years ago, if anyone can find it.

        I believe student projects are not claimable as prior art, which is sad. At the very least, if a young, learning, practitioner in training can generate an idea, then almost by definition, it must be "obvious to a practitioner skilled in the art". Students are practitioners in training. If a student can figure it out, then it should make the idea should either be unpatentable, or patentable only by the

      • by jonbryce (703250)

        For prior art, you can claim the likes of Automatic Train Protection - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automatic_train_protection [wikipedia.org] . In such a system, if a train passes a signal at danger (red light), it applies the brakes and stops the train. It has been around since at least the 1980s. You may well have seen reports about this when you were doing your elementary school paper.

      • pending
        adj (postpositive)
        1. not yet decided, confirmed, or finished

        While it is true that the patent system is completely broken, you really should cut the USPTO some slack here. The patent was only applied for on Thursday. It hasn't even been looked at yet!

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Theaetetus (590071)

          pending adj (postpositive) 1. not yet decided, confirmed, or finished

          While it is true that the patent system is completely broken, you really should cut the USPTO some slack here. The patent was only applied for on Thursday. It hasn't even been looked at yet!

          Published Thursday. Filed November 14, 2008. But still probably not examined.

          • by ShinmaWa (449201)

            Published Thursday. Filed November 14, 2008. But still probably not examined.

            Good catch... Published, not applied for.

    • by Cassini2 (956052) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:33AM (#32314396)

      I've never perceived the problem of getting vehicles to turn off engines at traffic lights as being a technical issue. Rather, the problem is much more one of regulation, and forcing everyone to adopt a standard. To make the strategy work, you need to:

      (a) get every state in the union, and perhaps every municipality in every state, to modify their traffic lights in the same way, and
      (b) get every automaker to make cars that with electronic modules that work with the *SAME* standard as the traffic lights, and
      (c) get every class action litigator to agree to not sue anyone.

      Business text books clearly say to "run away" from any system that requires broad corporate/public/governmental agreement, particularly if the system involves long-term governmental and corporate cooperation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SpzToid (869795)

        Not to argue against your very strong valid points, however I would like to remind you of the seemingly similar high odds of super-market checkout scanners being adopted, everywhere, within a reasonable amount of time.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          They weren't. The standard UPC was adopted in the 70s, but it took many years before it became ubiquitous. I still remember working at JCPenney in the 90s and either wanding JPC's self-created tag or manually typing in the numbers by hand. The UPC was completely ignored because the store simply didn't have the necessary equipment.

          So it took about a quarter-century between adoption of the UPC and the ability for all stores to read them.

      • by cynyr (703126) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:06PM (#32315100)

        to add a few points to your list

        There are a lot of collector/hobby cars on the road, from the 40's-80's. My car is from 1994, i'm sure that it does not have the necessary bits in it to make this system work, nor am I likely to pay out of pocket for it. If you could even get to 90% of cars on the road, in less than 50 years I would be shocked. Thats assuming that A, B, and C all went off without a hitch.

        A few problems with turning the engine off at a stoplight (brought to you by the "whatcouldgowrong dept.):

        • Emergency vehicles may need to pass though the intersection. How do you start all of the cars back up? Does the heater/AC units still work without the engine running? I guess we could move to having only the alternator attached via belt, but that still would mean powering a compressor/heater from the battery. Not something i would want to do at a very long light. Power steering would also be "disabled" with the engine off, as well as vacuum assist on the breaks. A large number of critical systems in a car work because of the engine
        • Does anyone have this "auto power down" stuff for manual transmissions? If so i'm not sure i would like that the car can override my clutch pedal. It could cause problems if i'm relying on the stopped engine and transmission to keep my car in place. That is very very common to do for parking a stick.
        • Restarting an engine uses more gass than constant running for X seconds, if the system just stops until Y seconds before the green light, you could actully increase gas consumption, if it was sending out a "light green in 45 seconds, manage your engine please" sort of a signal, that would allow for "a red && yellow" sort of light so you could get a good launch off of the traffic light, or just jump the green. The US anyways seems to dislike the idea of letting people know about the green light ahead of time.
        • Cars where the battery is dead and need to be left running to get to the garage could wind up stopped with no power in the lane of traffic just before an intersection. Where if the light had not instructed them to turn off it would have been fine. To illustrate, I can ruun my 1994 car without a battery. The starter won't work, but if it gets jumped or I push start it runs just fine, but is a stick though.
        • The signal would have to be a real data stream with a one time key, anything else would be record-able and would be able to be played back at will to stop a car by anyone with ham radio gear.

        just a few things off the top of my head, that could be technical problems with the idea.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Technician (215283)

        And you need to eliminate the standard auto starter. It is not designed to take that much extra use. They have a finite life on the brushes, contactor, and Bendix.

        Changing starter replacement cylcles from about 120K miles to less than 20 K is unacceptable.

        Only a new starter that eliminates those issues can be used with reasonable life expectancy. The Prius for example has solved those problems. It does not use a contactor, brushes, or Bendix. It uses the main electric traction motor to turn the engine.

      • by netsavior (627338) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @01:00PM (#32315534)
        Stopping cars at the light isn't all that hard, but making it a good idea to stop them at the light is pretty far away. The trivial problem of pre-loading the oil pump so that it does not do serious life limiting of your engine is a small detail that nobody seems to care about (because they don't know that starting and stopping conventional vehicles at every intersection is murder to the lubrication system, and therefore the entire engine.) Some cars do this (prius, some police cruisers) but most do not.

        Much more, you have to re-engineer cars so that A/C is not dependent on the motor running.

        Many people who live in places without shit weather have no idea about this (particularly California where "green" ideas that are wildly impractical seem to come from).

        Are there places in the country where you can freeze to death if your car stops? yes. Are there places in the country where infants can die of heat stroke if your car stops? Yes. those places just don't happen to be in California/NY.

        Heat and A/C are not about comfort, they are about survival, at least in many places in the country.
    • by FlorianMueller (801981) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:37AM (#32314424) Homepage

      ...if you don't ignore the fact that this is a blatant case of "patenting the goal". The patent is "here's a bunch of ideas that might work to control fuel consumption at signals, we claim them all."

      I agree that that this isn't really a fully-disclosed invention. Generally, IBM is more interested in patenting as much as possible just to create patent thickets and later shut out or tax real innovators with bullying tactics [blogspot.com]. The blog post I just linked to also mentions IBM's claim (made in early 2009) to have a number of patents "larger than those from Microsoft, HP, Oracle, Apple, EMC, Accenture, and Google combined." The blog post [blogspot.com] also mentions research that shows the average commercial value of an IBM patent is fairly low as compared to the portfolios of such competitors as Microsoft. The patent that gave rise to this slashdot article may be another example.

      IBM has also been a long-standing aggressive force in pushing the envelope concerning the scope of patentable subject matter in the field of software. Courts can't be lobbied the way politicians are lobbied (which is something at which IBM is also extremely aggressive) but companies can try to bring up court case after court case pushing the envelope with new arguments in order to find loopholes to extend the range of what's patentable. The recent landmark decision in Germany [blogspot.com], effectively lowering the bar for software patentability in the largest EU member state, was related to a Siemens patent, but other landmark cases in the US as well as in Europe (at the level of the European Patent Office as well as in individual European countries such as Germany) related to legal recourse sought by IBM in order to obtain patents on "inventions" of an ever lower standard.

      At the lobbying front, the FFII (a European non-governmental organization fighting software patents and pushing for open standards) listed IBM as one of the four IT companies [blogspot.com] pushing hard for an overall patent and patent court reform in Europe aiming to strengthen the rights of patent holders and the legal basis for software patents.

      This doesn't mean to say that IBM is the only company doing it, let alone the only one with an interest in this, but others entered the game relatively late and IBM has a history of decades of pursuing that agenda of an ever broader scope of patentable subject matter.

      • One of the largest reasons for having such a huge patent portfolio is mainly to discourage patent trolls from trying to sue IBM. Especially if it is another manufacturer they can shut down competition that goes after them in the courts by throwing up enough other patents to make it a patent war on a large scale. So from a defensive standpoint, IBM is merely doing a good business practice by taking a bad system and trying not to get harmed by it.

        I've never really understood the patent system in the first place, as it really doesn't protect "the little guy", in other words the lone tinkerer in a garage who comes up with some crazy idea and wants to earn some bucks from the concept. Until anybody can show that such a person is legitimately protected, I have to consider the patenting process as something more of a scam that is designed to extract money from those who are least able to afford it. For a private person to patent something, I would consider it to be 99% of the time to be an utter mistake.

        For a corporation that already has full time lawyers working for them, having some of that legal time engaged in dealing with patent protection perhaps makes some practical sense. In other words, this is a system that mainly protects those who already have money and not those struggling to get some in the first place.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          One of the largest reasons for having such a huge patent portfolio is mainly to discourage patent trolls from trying to sue IBM.

          Sorry but if you deal with a troll in the sense of a non-practicing (or some say non-producing) entity, there's no way you can use your own patent portfolio to countersue. The troll has no products/services against which you can assert your patents, where you have none, a few, or tens of thosuands. There's simply no counterthreat for a lack of a target area on which to drop a bomb.

          The only way to defend yourself against a troll is that you get the troll's patent invalidated or prove that you don't infringe

  • Sounds good. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:21AM (#32314302)

    VW (and other car manufacturers probably) already have cars that shut off at stop lights. The "3L" car they made (78.4 MPG, no batteries required) shuts down at stop lights. All this is doing is making it 'intelligent'.

  • This may mess up right on red or end up like Toyota end lead to some like car CPU lockup that ends in a bad way.

    • by Rick17JJ (744063) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @01:05PM (#32315582)
      I have encountered traffic lights which never turn green for my direction, even after waiting through many cycles for about 5 or 10 minutes. There was one light in town which seemed to be wait for its buried magnetic sensing loops to detect at least two cars to arrive before it would turn green. I would be coming back from a grocery store at about midnight and have to sit there for about 5 minutes while waiting for another car to arrive, then it would finally change. Unfortunately, there was also a no right turn sign at the intersection, which made it impossible for me to legally escape from the situation.

      There were three lights in town, more or less, like that. I have wondered if perhaps something about my pickup truck or the way that I approach the intersection, fails to trigger the buried magnetic sensing loops. I once talked to another local resident who had the same problem, in his pickup truck, with one of the same traffic lights.

      I would hate to encounter a traffic light which could turn off my engine in that situation, preventing me from backing up or turning right to escape the problem. Would there be an emergency override switch for the system? Would they require such a system being retrofitted to my older 1992 pickup truck? I also wonder what would happen if the power to the traffic lights goes out during a thunder storm. Would our engines default to start in such a situation, so that we could treat the failed traffic lights as 4-way stop signs?
  • The day they actually implement this, I start caring about (and driving) "antique" (aka exempt) cars.

    Seriously... Great idea in theory. In practice, how many times have you sat waiting for a light and suddenly had to move NOW? Either for an ambulance, or some moron going too fast and turning far too widely, or a tractor trailer at a tight intersection that would otherwise have rolled its back tires over your hood, or even suddenly having to run the light to avoid getting rear-ended by someone coming up
    • by Skater (41976)
      I'd say the intersections you use need other improvements in safety. I honestly can't remember a time when I've had any of that happen, with the exception of the ambulances, of course... but they have sirens that warn me it's coming in plenty of time to restart the engine.
    • by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:11AM (#32314696)

      Seriously... Great idea in theory. In practice, how many times have you sat waiting for a light and suddenly had to move NOW? Either for an ambulance, or some moron going too fast and turning far too widely, or a tractor trailer at a tight intersection that would otherwise have rolled its back tires over your hood, or even suddenly having to run the light to avoid getting rear-ended by someone coming up behind you completely oblivious to the light?

      In 20 years of driving, only the emergency vehicle one. I've never had any of those other situations. That's not to say they don't happen, but I am left wondering why you imagine they are common occurrences that happen to everyone.

      Secondly, I wonder why whenever a new idea/patent/invention is brought up here, some people object to it on the basis of assuming that the worst possible implementation is the one that would be done; that the inventor hasn't already considered the problems that come into your mind within seconds of hearing the idea, and dealt with them. And that an implementation would be continued with if such problems remained.

      a sizable number of people already do switch off their engines if they are in a quene of traffic and are going to be waiting a long time. And this doesn't seem t have caused problems. So there doesn't seem to be a problem with switching engines off in queues per se.

      A rational implementation would of course not switch the engine off unless the car was already stationary with the parking break applied. And it would not stop the driver from restarting the engine with the ignition key if needed. These obvious details seem to deal with all your fears.

      • by nkh (750837)

        In 20 years of driving, only the emergency vehicle one. I've never had any of those other situations

        In 5 years of driving in the south of France, I've had this kind of situation happening at least once a week. This IBM patent would kill me if it was in my car.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      How many times have you seen somebody stall out (or been that driver in a stalled out car) where the engine simply won't restart? There are multiple reasons for that, and I'll admit it tends to happen on older cars that really need some maintenance happen on those engines, but it is something that to me causes more problems than the solution it is trying to fix.

      BTW, I have to agree with you on the need at times to be able to punch the gas to get out of a sticky situation... which is one of the problems wit

  • Unnecessary if.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ktappe (747125) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:27AM (#32314346)
    This patent would be much less necessary if cities would install intelligent traffic lights that allowed traffic to flow and thus minimized idling engines.
  • Great Idea, But... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iYk6 (1425255) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:29AM (#32314358)

    This is a great idea. But it's being done the wrong way. Rather than sending signals to start and stop cars, the traffic lights should just send signals saying how long the red light is going to be, and while they're at it, specify how long the green lights will be too. Then the smart cars should interpret that how they will, by stopping, starting, or showing a light to the driver. This method will upgrade smoother and be more resistant to jokers with toys at the intersections.

    • by bbqsrc (1441981)
      Why not just put the timer on the traffic lights themselves then and allow the human to manually decide what happens? Either fully automate our personal motorcoaches or gtfo.
      • Why not just put the timer on the traffic lights themselves then and allow the human to manually decide what happens? Either fully automate our personal motorcoaches or gtfo.

        I think your idea of putting a visible countdown timer on lights might not be a bad idea. However, I also don't see an automated system as taking unnecessary control from the driver any more than I see using an automatic transmission that way. It's just a way to reduce cognitive load, and presumably have the computer make decisions more efficiently than the human could. So long as you can disable the system when you need to, and the engine automatically restarts when you manually hit the gas (a la cruise

      • by takev (214836)
        They have a few of those now in amsterdam, as a pedestrian it is very useful to decide if you want to wait for the green light, or just cross against the red light instead.
      • by he-sk (103163)

        Why not just put the timer on the traffic lights themselves...

        And give teenagers and other morons one more incentive to race their cars? What could possibly go wrong?

    • Totally agree.
    • by amiga3D (567632)
      Quick, patent it.
    • by Bazman (4849)

      Perhaps your idea already is patented? Checked? I would reckon IBM have, and then decided they could patent this too, since it doesnt infringe on the 'just tell the car' patent. Maybe the author of that patent thought the 'stop the car remotely' idea was too improbable.

      Of course they're only doing it in order to get their quota of patents up in their annual reports.

  • but what if (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MalHavoc (590724)

    suppose your car has been told to shut off at a red light. What happens if you need to suddenly perform crash avoidance? One of the standard things taught in driver school is leaving enough room between you and the car in front of you in case you need to avoid a rear collision. I'm not sure insurance companies are going to go for this.

    • by KDN (3283)

      That actually reminds me of a real incident. I was stopped at a light, cars in front of me. I notice a truck coming up behind me. Suddenly I see the truck lurch downward as I hear brakes slamming. I didn't even think, I rapidly turned the wheel left and floored the engine. He missed me, but he stopped roughly where my front seat was. With this new system my car would be totalled as well as the car in front of me, and maybe damage to the next one as well.

    • suppose your car has been told to shut off at a red light. What happens if you need to suddenly perform crash avoidance?

      That's a question akin to the old excuse for not wearing seat belts: "what happens if I'm knocked unconscious in a crash and can't undo my seat belt to get out of a car that's going to explode?". Well, if you're unconscious you're not going to be undo your seat belt are you? The same for crash avoidance with the engine off when stopped at a stop light - you're stopped. You aren't going

  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:43AM (#32314464) Homepage Journal

    I wish all funding for that would be diverted to making a car with a survival instinct: Proximity sensors for collision avoidance, sensors to determine road conditions of maximum safe speeds accordingly, etc.

    Once it becomes rare for someone to die in a car accident, THEN they can mess around with red light idling algorithms and self-driving cars. Just pick your priorities: Safety first.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      The casualties incurred in transportation are already at an easily tolerable level (demonstrated every day). Adding gross complexity would increase purchase cost, maintenance cost, and add potential points of failure (as we are seeing with 'Yota electronic problems).

      You have far too much faith in sensors.

      As an aircraft mechanic and former avionics tech, I note that even Very Expensive Sensors still shit the bed.
      Affordable Consumer Sensors will be much less reliable.

      • The casualties incurred in transportation are already at an easily tolerable level (demonstrated every day).

        Obstetricians of the 19th century used to say the same thing about deaths in childbirth. You're acclimated to its horrors, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for progress.

        Though I just went to check the rates, and perinatal still kills more than road accidents, so you have a point. I'll keep wishing that there would be more research at improving our sensors and collision avoidance algorithms.

  • by Pinckney (1098477) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:46AM (#32314480)

    Upon receiving the stop-engine notification, the vehicles may automatically switch off the engine, or display an alert informing drivers to manually switch off the engines. A vehicle may optionally notify the service once its engine is switched off.

    For all of you concerned about not having complete control.

    The summary doesn't effectively explain when this would be useful. At most lights, it won't matter. The example the patent gives is a 2 minute light, for which it is inefficient to restart the engine state. It suggests "waiting for 10 minutes for a railway to clear" as a case where this would be useful.

    The patent seems very vague. It talks about processing information about the movement about other cars, doesn't comment on what should be looked for, how that information is to be determined, or how wait-time should be estimated. It basically seems to be a patent for the idea of signaling the car when a long wait is anticipated.

    • by Kjella (173770)

      The summary doesn't effectively explain when this would be useful. At most lights, it won't matter. The example the patent gives is a 2 minute light, for which it is inefficient to restart the engine state. It suggests "waiting for 10 minutes for a railway to clear" as a case where this would be useful.

      I don't know how smart you can make the cars, but I imagine this could be used to implement several "sleep stages" of an engine not unlike a CPU. I mean cars are at idle even when you're waiting to for a gap in traffic to make a turn, it has to be quite responsive. If you know there's a full minute until you will move again, can you do better? It might not be huge but across millions of cars and millions of traffic lights I can at least see some potential.

  • What this patent fails to account for is that starting up the car results in increased fuel consumption for the short period while the engine attains running speed. Short period, though, but multiply it by the number of signals in an average city, and it might just come out that this actually increases sum consumption.

    Also, I'd like to draw your attention to a post [blogspot.com] detailing just what can happen if we introduce networking into cars. And this is even made easier by the forced standards needed for this pro
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by SagSaw (219314)
      What this patent fails to account for is that starting up the car results in increased fuel consumption for the short period while the engine attains running speed. Short period, though, but multiply it by the number of signals in an average city, and it might just come out that this actually increases sum consumption.

      Keep in mind that a number of automakers are developing "stop-start" systems for their future models. Cars equipped with these systems will shut off the engine automatically after a perio
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        IMHO...there are three problems noted in the paper: A challenge-response mechanism that is easily brute-forced, CAN nodes which fail to properly implement the challenge-response security mechanism, and CAN nodes which fail to do proper sanity checking before accepting commands via the debugging protocol. None of these issues are made worse by installing a traffic-light receiver.

        None of the problems, but the risk is still there: the receiver needs to talk to the ECU to start/stop the engine, meaning it mu
  • Doesn't starting a car engine consume a lot of gas . . . like, more than you would if you just left it idling?

    I rode in a friend's BMW that shut the engine off when not moving, and it seemed to be a royal fucking pain in the ass to get the damn thing started again. This was in city conditions, where a lot of stop and goes are common.

    On the other hand the PolygamousRanchSister has a Prius, and I didn't notice any problems with that.

    Oh, and either MAKE or Wired will have instructions on making such a car

  • by KDN (3283) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @10:59AM (#32314606)

    Anyone want to take bets on how long until the protocols gets hacked and spoofed?

    • Go to a freeway overpass and aim it at oncoming traffic and see how many cars come to a halt.
    • At a real intersection keep transmitting the "off" signal at a higher power output than the real transmitter keeping everyone stopped.
    • car jacking potential?
    • Will this stop police cars in hot pursuit?
    • Will this make cars unable to get out of the way of a police car at a stop light?
    • Programming bug prevents the traffic light from switching. We've all been at those lights that get stuck.

    This should be a good thread on comp.risks.

  • So, no getting out of the way of ambulances and fire trucks then? Do these vehicles have to constantly update the instructions for intersection engine control? What if they go off their planned route?
  • This "invention" is completely redundant. Cars that were designed to shut their engine off when stopped (start-stop-automatic) won't need additional hints from stupid traffic signals, and all other cars won't support it.

    Sorry IBM, you just reinvented the square wheel. Sucks to have paid all those patent fees.

  • by bdleonard (931507) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @11:45AM (#32314952)
    All this is necessary to achieve this is wider application of so called "mild hybrid" technology. Think over-sized battery, over-sized starter motor, over-sized alternator, drive by wire throttle, and a bit of ECU smarts. Any time the car is stopped (or below speed X, where X is small 3mph? ) the engine is "off" (no fuel, no spark, engine still turning if the car is in motion), and the battery and starter motor move the car. Once the speed threshold is exceeded (or battery is sufficiently low) fuel and spark are resumed. At any greater speed the vehicle is powered entirely by the engine. Having electrically powered accessories (power steering assist, air conditioning, brake booster, etc.) would be preferable, so that all of those systems still function when the engine is not spinning. It addition, making these electric tends to increase efficiency and reduce weight. If these systems remain belt or vacuum driven there can be many situation where the ECU may be forced to leave the car idling, or waste battery power spinning the engine to keep the accessories running.
  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:20PM (#32315222) Homepage
    How about first they invent a 60-second kill switch on the dome light so that when your children leave the dome light on all night, and then jump the car in the morning, you don't have to rev the engine at every stoplight to have a hope of restarting the car after leaving the destination?
  • by joeyblades (785896) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:33PM (#32315326)

    First of all, starters have a limited lifetime. If you force cars to engage them at nearly every stoplight, they will wear out 10 times faster or more. If a starter wears out at a traffic light, the car can't start and the flow of traffic will stop. This will do wonders for fuel savings, but not much good for transportation, as a whole.

    Second, if my engine shut off at a stoplight in the Texas summer, my air conditioning would not work and I would effectively be baking in an oven.

  • by sjames (1099) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @12:36PM (#32315368) Homepage

    How about instead of that a marquee that tells motorists the wait time and suggests shutting off their engines to save gas?

    I'm betting it will be cheaper (especially since you can't patent a sign saying how long the wait is, theme parks have decades of prior art), it completely avoids an entire class of serious problems (like what if a carjacker/terrorist/bored 13 year old figures out how to send the kill signal) and doesn't require refitting every car in the U.S.

    If voluntary participation isn't widespread enough once the signs are in place, put on a few PSAs encouraging kids to pester their parents about it.

    Of course the whole thing will become a moot point anyway as hybrid and electric cars take over. At that point, at least my alternative suggestion can then be re-purposed to provide news and entertainment.

  • by Presence1 (524732) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @02:05PM (#32316018) Homepage

    When will manufacturers, especially software manufacturers, ever understand the concept that it is *MY* computer or device, *NOT THEIRS* ???

    As noted above in all the "What could go wrong?" posts, this kind of central control is fraught with problems and unintended consequences..

    If they simply take an approach to design and engineering that respects fact that it is not their device, all kinds of problems go away.

    A proper approach would be for the lights to broadcast their status and schedule for the next few minutes (i.e., how long until the next change, how long will be the next red, etc.), and allow the vehicle and driver to decide what to do about it.

    Sure, If we're at the beginning of a long red, then it is probably best to shut down. But, if we're making a right turn and/or trying to get someone to the hospital at 3AM, have paused to check that there is no crossing traffic, then we should drive on. If the hybrid motor is trying to recharge low batteries, the motor should keep running. Etc. We could even have a dashboard or heads-up display showing the status so the driver can make better decisions. Different car designers can code the best algorithm for *their* particular car design, e.g., a hybrid might use a completely different response pattern than a truck or a sportscar.

    What is so hard about that? [Warning - oversimplification following] Decentralized systems are generally more flexible, and have shallower bugs than centralized systems. So, why do they persist in designing that way?

  • by PPH (736903) on Sunday May 23, 2010 @03:24PM (#32316634)
    ... why not sync the %$#@&)$$ lights better? That would save quite a bit of gas, not having to start and stop at every intersection.

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