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Green GPS calculates most fuel-efficient route

5/5/2011 6:16:00 AM Kim Gudeman, Coordinated Science Laboratory

A new software interface reduces energy consumption in transportation systems.

Green GPS, developed by computer scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, works like general GPS navigation, except that in addition to calculating the shortest and fastest routes, it also projects the most fuel-efficient route.

“Currently at least 30 percent of total energy in the United States is spent on cars,” said Principal Investigator Tarek Abdelzaher, associate professor of computer science and researcher in the Coordinated Science Laboratory. “By saving even 5 percent of that cost, we can save the same amount of total energy spent on the nation’s entire information technology infrastructure.”

Green GPS technology developed by Illinois computer science professors
Green GPS technology developed by Illinois computer science professors
Green GPS technology developed by Illinois computer science professors

The technology runs on cell phones, which links to a car’s computer using an inexpensive, off-the-shelf wireless adapter that works in all cars manufactured since 1996. The car’s onboard diagnostics system uploads information about engine performance and fuel efficiency to the phone, which uses the data to compute the greenest route.

A grant through the National Science Foundation to Abdelzaher and Robin Kravets, also a member of Illinois’ computer science faculty, is funding a large-scale deployment of the service via the University of Illinois’ car fleet. The Office of Naval Research is funding research related to the technology’s networking component. Researchers -- including Dr. Omid Fatemieh, graduate student Hossein Ahmadi and research associate Hongyan Wang -- also are collaborating with IBM through its “Smarter Planet” initiative.

Pete Varney, who oversees some of the approximately 500 vehicles used by the Urbana-Champaign campus, hopes research will help maximize fuel efficiency for the fleet. The units will be installed on up to 200 vehicles, including full-size vans that could be carrying 1,000 pounds or more in tools and equipment.

“The less money we can spend on fuel, the more money we can direct toward maintaining other things on campus,” said Varney, director of Transportation & Automotive Services.

In addition, researchers are developing a social network of drivers who can share information about their cars. In the future, that would provide the basis for a community that allows drivers who don’t have the technology to use the service based on data collected from cars with the same make, model and year.

In preliminary experiments, researchers were able to show that following the suggestion of Green GPS saves 13 percent more fuel over the fastest route and 6 percent over the shortest. The initial test was conducted on 16 cars of various types that collectively drove for 1,000 miles in Urbana-Champaign, a city of 170,000.

Abdelzaher hopes that the collaboration with IBM will open up opportunities to test the service in heavily urban areas with greater stop-and-go traffic.

“The preliminary results gave us hope that if we deploy it, it will be useful,” he said. “If we can minimize brown energy and maximize green energy, we reduce our carbon footprint.”