Computer Science Professor Developing Weather Sensor for Cars
Weather readings may be coming from our own cars pretty soon thanks to the work of a Millersville University professor and his students. Dr. Gary Zoppetti, a computer science professor, and Albert Peterlin, president of the environmental consulting firm Errex Inc., have been working together since mid-July to develop a weather sensory device that could be in every car on the market in just a few years.
Millersville students have been involved since the beginning of the project, helping with the construction and programming of a vehicle interface. Two computer science students are currently working with Zoppetti, one of whom is receiving credit for an independent study.
Peterlin thought of the idea while working for the National Weather Service and was the chief meteorologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Department of Transportation has actually been interested in gathering weather and other information from cars for years.
“When I read of the Department of Transportation weather project, I thought getting weather from vehicles made sense and that I could start gathering data even before the government was ready to release their finding,” said Peterlin.
“We began by studying the on-board diagnostics (OBD) system and its communication protocol. At first we used an inexpensive OBD-II scanner to obtain data like RPMs and vehicle speed, which are accessible using standard modes and parameter IDs (PIDs),” said Zoppetti. From there they could easily find barometric pressure. OBD is used primarily by automotive technicians to diagnose vehicle performance issues, but it can also be used to obtain useful real-time data.
“We soon found we needed more flexibility to obtain data without standardized modes and PIDs, such as wiper status (on/off and speed). We built our own programmable vehicle interface (VI), which plugs into the OBD-II port. We are now writing software to obtain wiper status, temperature, headlight status and other information relevant to weather conditions.”
Meanwhile, there have been some obstacles along the way with the prototype device. “The challenges are massive, but opportunity is greater,” said Peterlin. “[T]o be commercially viable we will have to work with every car model, make-by-make, year-by-year. Eventually there will be a suite of environmental standards all vehicle manufacturers will meet, but until then, it is individual work.”
Zoppetti welcomes student help on the project. If interested, you can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.