VW Scandal Highlights Need For More Technology, Not Less

Volkswagen apparently engaged in a colossal case of corporate greed in an effort to extract a scant couple of hundred euros more profit per vehicle. Tinkering with emission controls will end up costing the auto firm billions of dollars and years of hard-earned goodwill. Some pundits will argue that abuse of technology is at the heart of the issue. Others have a different take, opining that not only is technology not at fault, but that even more technology is needed, and should be encouraged!

According to the , we are only in the middle of the automobile’s evolution from a bumpy-riding buggy to a futuristic vehicle. But this is a perilous time, as onboard computer systems are currently vulnerable to hacking, largely because they are secret and cannot be independently inspected. This factor was a major reason for VW’s duplicitous behaviour being allowed flourished for so long. To preclude such chicanery, the industry needs more technology, not a return to the dumbed-down vehicle of the past. As Stefan Heck, the founder of new automotive technology start-up company Nauto, observes,

“What happened at Volkswagen ha d to do with embedded software that’s buried deep in the car, and only the supplier knows what’s in it — and it’s a black box for everybody else.

It was, in fact, smarter technology applied by the International Council on Clean Transportation, in conjunction with scholars from West Virginia University, that discerned VW cars were being alerted to Environmental Protection Agency emissions protocols, and thereby reverting into a low-emissions mode from its noxious high-performance mode used on the open road. The devices  used were “portable emissions measurement systems” (PEM) mounted on trail vehicles, that detected emissions alarmingly 15-35 times greater than acceptable levels.

Only technological advances would allow for the miniaturisation such devices, so that they could fit into the trunk of a car. Someday soon they may be economical enough to be standard equipment on cars, but only if the evolution of technology is allowed to develop, and to make the technology cheaper, as the cost of the UVW experiment using just three vehicles cost $70,000.

But other cheaper, more ubiquitous devices may emerge first, such as in-the-road sensors. Data flowing in from other sources could help uncover different kinds of automotive gaming. The I.C.C.T. recently collected fuel-consumption data on more than 600,000 European cars from nearly a dozen sources (for instance, a German leasing company that automatically monitors its fleet’s mileage, and a Dutch fuel-loyalty card that tracks how much gas people buy).

What is worrisome is that the trend since 2001 has been for cars to emit more, not less, dangerous emissions, mainly because manufacturers prepared cars for testing that were unrepresentative of real-world conditions in a bid to increase performance and boost profits.

Tesla, the electric car pioneer, is one company bucking the trend by utilizing “telematics” features similar to ones used by Apple and Google to track smartphone performance in the field. The goal is for intelligent-car systems, and an on-road network of sensors, that are constantly analysing data to get an accurate appraisal of what’s happening.

So, out of the muck and mire of the VW fiasco new technologies will be born. so that technology will not just attend to driver’s comforts and conveniences – such as in-dash navigation and hands-off driving, but solutions to improve the environment in which we live.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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