Developments to Watch
SOFTWARE THAT KEEPS YOUR CAR BATTERY FROM RUNNING DOWN
You're stuck on the road and you're dying for a cool blast of AC. But think twice: Too much energy demand on a car that is idling or in stop-and-go traffic can run down the battery and leave you stranded. Drivers reluctant to give up creature comforts may some day turn to an "energy load management controller" developed at Case Western Reserve University in cooperation with Ford Motor Co. Engineering professor Kenneth Loparo and doctoral student Richard Kaplan devised software for the car's on-board computer that makes sure the battery is never overtaxed. Say you flick the air conditioner on. First, the system sees what devices are already on, how fast the car is going, and the battery's state of charge. Then it schedules the AC to come on when enough energy is available. The software can be set for different priorities--driver comfort, fuel economy, or high performance.
Loparo says energy management is becoming more important as gadgets such as cellular phones and fax machines are put into cars. He adds that Ford is deciding whether there's enough customer interest "and how people will react if, for example, their air conditioning doesn't come on right away."EDITED BY RUTH COXETER