Today, if a car's ignition switch stops responding, it probably means a costly repair to the wiring. For a military vehicle, it could mean dangerous delays on the battlefield. But fixing the malfunction could be as simple as rerouting the faulty command, thanks to new technology being developed at the Product Development & Manufacturing Center (PDMC) at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich.

PDMC is working with the National Automotive Center of the U.S. Army Tank Command and a consortium of carmakers to develop the technology, which uses radio frequencies instead of wires to send commands to vehicle equipment. If a control panel is damaged, critical functions can be transferred to another set of controls by an onboard computer. The consortium is currently testing the technology, which operates through a laptop attached to the vehicle's dashboard, in both a Jeep Grand Cherokee and a Hummer military vehicle. Future versions of the device will be integrated into the car's internal systems--and may even be operated and monitored remotely, says Patrick E. Dessert, PDMC director. The radio frequency system would replace much of the car's wiring. Dessert estimates that this could translate into $300 in savings per vehicle in warranty costs.

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