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High tech car to tell mechanics of its needs

An intelligent system that can tell mechanics which parts of a car need servicing was unveiled on 18 June at a European technology show in Strasbourg, France. The specially-adapted Fiat prototype can tell garage staff about the state of its components in seconds by using smar...

An intelligent system that can tell mechanics which parts of a car need servicing was unveiled on 18 June at a European technology show in Strasbourg, France. The specially-adapted Fiat prototype can tell garage staff about the state of its components in seconds by using smart electronic tags inside its engine. The system was designed by engineers at the University of Cambridge's Institute for Manufacturing as part of the EU-funded PROMISE (Product Lifecycle Management and Information Tracking Using Smart Embedded Systems) project. Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, each with its own unique identification number, are attached to the car's engine parts. The vehicle is then driven at a low speed over a one-metre square servicing pad, which is fitted with an Ultra-High Frequency reader and four antennae. As the car passes over the pad, the readers transmit the identity number from the electronic tags to a computer which can cross-reference this information with a computerised database to identify those parts that needed to be checked for wear. 'Ultimately motorists could be driving into a garage over the same sort of sensor, which would instantly tell both the driver and the garage staff which parts needed replacing and which might be good for several thousand miles more,' said Professor Duncan McFarlane, from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Manufacturing. 'But there are potentially great benefits beyond this as well. When the car is sent to be scrapped, for example, RFID tagging could be used to identify which parts still have a useful life left in them. The system will tell the car producer whether separate parts can be reused, recycled, or need to be disposed of in landfill. It will also highlight which parts need improving for a longer life,' he continued. In time, the identification system could be used to tag all sorts of other products and components and even airport baggage and boarding passes, according to the professor. The car system was formally presented at the Scientific Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Experience, an exhibition celebrating 20 years of European research in science and technology, currently being held at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.