Device tells stolen car to stop
Combining the disciplines of electrical and computer engineering, three students at the University of Saskatchewan have made recovering a stolen vehicle as easy as sending a text message.
Sitting in a computer lab last fall, Shae Pederson, Jon Ness and Michael Siourounis were banging their heads against the wall for the perfect project idea for a yearend assignment. A mutual desire to work with cars and create something with realworld applications led them to a late-night moment of inspiration and the vehicle theft recovery device was born.
The students have developed a prototype for technology that will shut down a stolen vehicle that is running and alert the owner to its whereabouts. And they did it by adapting technology that already exists in most new vehicles: An automatic sensor that turns off a car when the engine is overheating.
The students’ technology simulates an overheating condition through the installation of a cellphone, essentially making the vehicle think it needs to shut down. All it takes is a text message from the owner.
“If you find that your car is missing and you think it’s been stolen, you can get onto any cellphone — or even e-mail — and send a text message to the device in your truck or car, telling it that it’s stolen,” said Pederson, an electrical engineering student.
The text message puts the car into low power mode by limiting the throttle of the vehicle for about 30 seconds, before shutting it down completely.
Pederson explained the reason it won’t turn off immediately is because of safety concerns. If the car was in the middle of traffic or crossing train tracks, it would present a significant danger to the driver and others.
After the car engine has been disabled, the device will then send a text message back to the phone with GPS co-ordinates of its location. All the owner has to do is call police with the exact whereabouts of the vehicle.
Once the research and blueprints for the device were complete after four months of work, the three students took another two months to build and then test it. They perfected it in one of their vehicles, even making a YouTube video of one of the tests.
The hard work has certainly paid off. Pederson, Siourounis and Ness recently won first place at the college of engineering’s 2009 Innovative Design competition.
Since then, Pederson says he hasn’t had any offers for the design prototype, though he won’t rule out the chance it might happen.
Though comparable theft mechanisms are already offered through General Motors’ OnStar system and an equivalent Ford service, Pederson thinks the group’s technology has the potential to be considerably less expensive, depending on the company offering it. He says the service would be fairly cheap for cellular companies since it requires minimal bandwidth.
Though unsure if it will ever happen, Pederson says the three already know what they will do if they are approached with an offer for their vehicle theft recovery device.
“We definitely need a more marketable name for it,” he said.