Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column; Published on 7/01/15, a www.SamBurlum.com Exclusive
Source: As long as there have been cars, there have been tinkerers and inventors who thought they could build a better mouse trap. Some inventions would never prove themselves beyond the concept and prototype stage, while others would be adopted over time to become standard equipment, as we now accept them as a part of our lives today.
We have taken a look at five inventions- technological advancements that were first thought of as science fiction and criticized harshly before making the transition into the regular make-up of the automobile. Some of the gadgets on our list are fairly new, and have just begun to emerge, while others date back to the 1930’s:
1. Global Positioning System (GPS). The Global Positioning System was invented by the Department of Defense and Dr. Ivan Getting. Following his undergraduate study at MIT as an Edison Scholar, Dr. Getting was a Graduate Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Astrophysics in 1935. In 1951, Ivan Getting became the vice president for engineering and research at the Raytheon Corporation. The first three-dimensional, time-difference-of-arrival position-finding system was suggested by Raytheon Corporation. Later, Getting would refine a device that was applicable for use on the ground.
The first systems were known to “send people in a circle” as they did not properly calculate location yet. The device was almost abandoned. The GPS first became available as an aftermarket accessory that you could buy at your local automotive parts store, but later became mainstreamed as companies such as Garmin and TomTom appeared. The GPS is standard in most vehicles today, and is built into the electronics of most modern dashboards right from factory. It took over 50 years before the GPS became standard in vehicles and is now on mobile phones as well.
2. Intermittent Windshield Wiper. The Intermittent Windshield Wiper was invented by a man named Robert Kearns, in the basement of his house, who was an engineer by trade from Case Western Reserve University. Made famous by the movie, “Flash of Genius,” Kearns’ efforts in suing the automotive industry were successful after many years of legal battles in court. Kearns did not work for any car company, but discovered a solution to a problem and acted on his own. It took him almost a decade to obtain a patent and nearly gave up in the process.
In 1973, Ford adopted the technology as a new feature on its famous Mustang model and other top sellers as well. Chrysler was next to capitalize on the invention. Kearns would later win decisive and landmark court battles against both vehicle manufacturers, marking it the largest litigation on the record over patent infringement. It took over twenty years for the auto industry to make the intermittent windshield wiper standard on all production cars.
3. Electronic Control Unit (ECU). The first Electronic Control Units, also known as Engine Control Units (ECU) and Power Train Control Units (PCU), hit mainstream when General Motors released the technology in 1979. It started as a small application on Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Cadillac makes and models.
These initial components were nothing more than logic modules which would utilize a hybrid digital/analog design. GM would ramp up production and the use of ECU in 1980, using microprocessors as a base for improving the form and functionality of the device.
In 1981, microprocessors for use in this application were here to stay, and auto manufacturers began to replace carburation with fuel injection systems because they now had a “brain” that could better control these functions. It’s hard to say who invented it first, since a number of auto manufacturers were working on designs of their own at the same time. Some people give Louis Brennan credit for inventing the base of the concept, when he used computer intelligence to create the first missile guidance system. The worldwide government standard vehicle diagnostic system, OBD II became the uniform standard in 1996, although by then many vehicles had already come with a more user friendly version.
4. The Electric Car Itself. The electric car is nothing new. The first electric car designs were developed by Nicola Tesla. Most of the very early motor coaches prior to mass production of vehicles were nothing more than an electric motor that was attached to an axle powered by a battery. The refinement of gasoline as a usable and cheap form of energy to power the internal combustion engine ushered in the petro era power plants still used today. In 1931, Nicola Tesla had stripped down a Pierce Arrow, and recreated the vehicle to accommodate an electric motor, a Westinghouse motor, which could reach speeds up to 90 miles per hour.
Later, General Motors would toy with the idea of an electric car with the release of the General Motors EV1, made famous by the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car.” By the mid to late 2000’s electric vehicles were going main stream. With fuel prices reaching $3 a gallon, many garage inventors would look to convert their own vehicle into a homemade electric powered one. This spurred the auto industry to meet the demand of fuel saving vehicles. Toyota answered with Prius, and now offers a full electric version of the vehicle. Nissan launched the Leaf. General Motors ushered in the Volt under its Chevrolet brand. Today just about every manufacturer offers a model vehicle that utilizes an electric power plant under the hood.
And it only took the industry over one hundred years to do it! Two main reasons are technological advancements and demand; X, Y, and Millennia generations grew up with a popular notion to embrace a responsibility to the environment, and in the use of transportation this meant exploring alternatives, including hybrids, electric, and even the use of new fuels. Tesla Motors, founded and funded by PayPal pioneer Elon Musk, only offers electric vehicles.
5. Smart Emissions Reducer (SER). The Smart Emissions Reducer is a relatively new addition to the list. The base technology was originally invented to reduce emissions and was widely tested and adopted in the logging industry. The technology is a simple retrofit designed that transforms crankcase emission gases into a more combustible state. As the newly enhanced gases exit the device and re-enter the air fuel stream, the fuel in the combustion chamber now burns cleaner and more completely, resulting in a more efficient use of fuel, and an entirely cleaner process.
A company located in Ogdensburg, New Jersey would later commercialize the product into use in commercial and government fleet vehicles. Since Extreme Energy Solutions took the product to market, the Smart Emissions Reducer has made its way under the hood of passenger vehicles, commercial delivery vehicles, taxi cabs, big rigs, transit buses, stationary generators, and even tested in the rail industry. The product was tested by Roush Industries, a leading automotive lab in Michigan, on gasoline powered vehicles. Test showed the device could deliver up to 7.5% increase fuel efficiency, while reducing emissions up to 65%.
It would be later be tested by KESHI Group, a manufacturer of specialty off-road vehicles for the mining industry in China. The report showed the device offering up to 5% in fuel efficiency under controlled laboratory conditions, and 20%-50% in emissions reductions, within various phases of engine operating modes. This testing was on a 5.9 liter Cummings diesel powered engine. Keshi Group continues to test the SER under real world conditions and has applied the technology to several vehicles in the field. As a result multiple engine and vehicle manufactures have issued Extreme Energy Solutions letters of intent to explore the use the SER as standard equipment.
Samuel K. Burlum is an investigative reporter who authors articles related to economic development, innovation, green technology, business strategy, and public policy concerns. Burlum is also a career entrepreneur who lends his expertise as a consultant to start-up companies, small businesses, and mid-size enterprises, providing advisement in several areas including strategic business planning, business development, supply chain management, and systems integration. He is also author of The Race to Protect Our Most Important Natural Resource-Water, Main Street Survival Guide for Small Businesses, and Life in the Green Lane-in Pursuit of the American Dream.