Professor Nick Collings and Professor Rex Britter
Combining information from different sources and disciplines is one way that engineers can work together very well. This is shown by a new research proposal to look at the development of a so-called Sentient Vehicle. This program will be combining the skills of Professor Nick Collings, whose speciality is measuring the emission of pollutants from internal combustion engines, Professor Andy Hopper, an expert in communications technology, Dr Rod Jones (of the Department of Chemistry) who works on ambient air pollution sensors, and Professor Rex Britter, who models the dispersion of pollutants. The project is funded by the Cambridge MIT Institute, and involves a close collaboration with academics at MIT who work in complementary areas of research.
They explain the thinking behind the research: "Look at pollution today. The main source of pollution nowadays is the car. Power stations and factories have ceased to be the main polluters. This area of pollution control tends to be legislation led. The car is increasingly the target for emissions control. Car engines are already produced with sophisticated instrumentation on board: Mechanics can plug in to the instrumentation to assess how the engine is running, and check if the emissions control systems are working correctly. Also in reliable service is a network of global positioning satellites (GPS) which can be used to sense the position of a car or person anywhere in the world. These technologies already exist.
Now we are working on the development of sensors for monitoring pollution levels. These must not only be sensitive and accurate, but also cheap and small enough to be embedded where required. With our expertise in all these areas, combined with the appropriate methods for data handling we are at the stage where we can develop a system whereby individual cars can be monitored and the pollution they are emitting at specific times and places can be mapped."
This may all sound a little like 'big brother' but as Professor Britter points out, the CCTV cameras in the streets and shops that were so feared in the early eighties are now welcomed with open arms. It is hoped to have a concept vehicle operational within a year.