Eric Postma Eric Postma


Written by  Caroline Roulaux Monday, 28 June 2004 00:00

Car maintenance from a distance

When you go with a reasonably modern car to a garage for a service, you know that these days they use computers to establish the condition of the vehicle. These cars are equipped with sensors that monitor and file technical information about failures that occurred since the last maintenance service. The mechanic only has to read these data to know what he has to do. Modern technologies, such as wireless communication and smart mobile devices even make it even possible to carry out this inspection and diagnosis from a distance. The European research project MYCAREVENT aims to improve the aftersales repair sector by providing the service technicians with information, tools and technology to service cars of diverse make and models.

According to prof. dr. Eric Postma, professor of Information Science/Artificial Intelligence of the Faculty of General Sciences, that future is not that far away. A consortium, consisting of university research institutes (from Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Great Britain) and car industry companies (amongst which Volkswagen and BMW), is going to develop this technology with a European subsidy of almost ten million Euro. The research project, called MYCAREVENT, will start in a few weeks. Universiteit Maastricht will participate in this consortium with research institute IKAT (Institute for Knowledge and Agent Technology).

The car industry obtained an exemption from the European law that prohibits links between sales and maintenance (the so-called Block Exemption). The OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) used to have such an exemption until october 2003. The removal of the exemption (i.e. the "new block exemption regulation", also called umbrella block exemption) offers new opportunites to companies other than the OEMs, but also to the OEM related workshops. They are (at least in theory) enabled to repair cars of other brands. Moreover, the same architectures which the free workshops and road services use, can also be used by the OEMs to reorganize their own processes and improve their efficiency.

With a view to gain insight in the extent to which car parts wear, information is continuously collected within the vehicles via wireless communication using inbuilt sensors. This information concerns the health status of the various systems and machinery within a car. According to Postma this is not only technological research. "Before you can follow vehicles up to that level of detail, you also have to think about the legal consequences. It could for example be agreed that when car-drivers buy a car they sign a declaration stating that they agree with this follow-up. These aspects will also have to be considered in the model that is to be developed. Besides that, the project will focus on business aspects. "We expect that thanks to the use of the designed technology failure due to wear can be prevented more often and that maintenance and repair can be carried out more efficiently.

The UM contribution to this research particularly concentrates on the improvement of efficiency of the maintenance and repair activities by using artificial intelligence. Postma: "With artificial intelligence techniques you can build a self-learning database that initially is filled with information from existing manuals. The database will constantly be supplemented with information about earlier repairs of cars of the same type and with new information from the car manufacturer. That way, by combining all this new information more and more knowledge develops about possible causes of certain failures and possible solutions." The IKAT has already gained expertise in many different areas with regard to these 'case-based learning' techniques (see also the article on art recognition in an earlier issue of this Magazine, Ed.). Postma has high expectations of the self-learning effect, also because of the large scale of the research. "The study is performed in several countries and various car brands are involved in the project. The larger and more varied the input in the database, the faster the system learns."

Not only road traffic can learn from MYCAREVENT. Postma: "As soon as the consortium has found a good way to integrate all information streams and when we have found out with which next generation mobile communication protocols (for example UMTS, WLAN and Galileo) this can be realized, then the technology can also be applied to other sectors of trade and industry. Manufacturers of electronics, for example, could benefit from this. Just think about how many televisions and refrigerators there are all over the world. And I know another example of a company that could improve a lot in the field of maintenance: the Dutch Railways (NS)."

MYCAREVENT is an acronym of MobilitY and CollAboRative work in European Vehicle Emergency NeTworks), lead by the Forschungsinstitut fuer Rationalisierung at the Aachen University. The MYCAREVENT consortium consists of the following partners: Volkswagen AG, BMW AG, DaimlerChrysler AG, FIAT, Porsche Austria, Royal Automotive Club (RAC), RACC, CSW, OMITEC, DIN, Vision Unltd., ESG, EURO IT&C, Care2Wear, Telefonica, Centre for Enterprise Sciences (BWI) at the ETH Zurich, Research Institute for Operations Management (FIR) at RWTH Aachen, Comnets, Expertise Centre for Digital Media (EDM), and the Institute for Knowledge and Agent Technology (UM). Prof. dr. Eric Postma is professor of Information Science at the Faculty of General Sciences of Universiteit Maastricht.
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