With society glued to technology, the idea of an app being able to run a diagnostic test for you isn’t too far off. Personal diagnostic tests for your car could save you time and money on repairs, but just how close are we to getting this type of app?

Vehicle Diagnostic Information from an App

In the next year or two, drivers could get vehicle diagnostic information through a smartphone app in a matter of minutes. A team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers are working on a smartphone app that delivers information on what work a car needs so it can warn you of needed maintenance work or upcoming issues.

The phone doesn't need to be connected to the car in any way. Diagnostic information is determined by analyzing the car's sounds and vibrations that smartphones can measure. The MIT research team behind the app says the diagnostic systems they've developed are over 90 percent accurate and haven’t had any false positives in tests for misfire detection.

They believe the smartphone app could save the average driver $125 a year (or more depending on the type of vehicle) and even help improve fuel economy.

How the Team's Testing the App

smartphone diagnostic testsThe team tested a variety of car models of different ages and varying repair histories. All were rentals and some ran without any problems, while others had misfires or clogged air filters.

Using machine-learning processes, the team used the app to compare recordings of sounds and vibrations from well-tuned cars against similar vehicles with some type of performance issue. The system can pick up even the smallest of differences in vibrations, while the algorithms for detecting wheel balance problems were more accurate than those used by experts from a car manufacturer.

An example is when the MIT group tested air filters. The smartphone can detect when the filter is getting clogged by listening to sounds the engine makes.

“We're listening to the car's breathing, and listening for when it starts to snore. As it [air filter] starts to get clogged, it makes a whistling noise as air is drawn in. Listening to it, you can’t differentiate it from the other engine noise, but your phone can,” research Joshua Siegel said.

The team at MIT anticipates being ready for field testing in roughly six months, and a commercial app is expected to be available about a year after field testing is completed.

Bottom Line

Advancements in technology are amazing. Not only are cars starting to adopt the latest and greatest technologies, soon drivers will be able to use their smartphones to detect issues with their vehicles.

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