Blog: Hypermiling and the Power of the Self-Adjusting Feedback Loop

Blog: Hypermiling and the Power of the Self-Adjusting Feedback Loop

There are a hundred little adjustments you can make every day, every moment as you drive and the result will be to increase your gas mileage by 20 per cent or 40 per cent or more. We don't need to wait helplessly until somebody invents a car that gets 100 miles per gallon (or 300 kilometers per liter). Agility and resourcefulness is all about starting where we are and working with what we've got to move toward our goal.

There is a very agile, very green, very cool phenomenon happening right now called "hypermiling" - getting hyper miles from whatever vehicle you happen to be driving at the moment (do a web search on hypermiling and see what comes up). It happens when you get a real-time readout showing your miles per gallon as you drive down the road. This used to be a feature only on luxury cars, now it's showing up on more cars; you can buy and install a simple gauge in your car to show you this data if your car doesn't have one already. And when you do, you enter into a relationship with the data and your car and the world that brings about bottom line savings and a new outlook on life. This is what the future looks like.

Last week I spent some time with my brother Andy who lives outside of Albany in upstate New York. He is a level headed and pretty conservative kind of guy who does not fall for passing fads. He picked me up at the airport and right away I noticed something different about the way he was driving. He was accelerating slowly, gliding around corners, and not using the brakes much. I asked what was going on, and he pointed to a gauge on his dashboard that showed a real-time readout of MPG (miles per gallon) and AvMPG (average miles per gallon).

He said the objective was to operate the car so as to get the highest possible MPG moment to moment, and over the longer haul his goal was to get the AvMPG up to 25.5. He explained that up until a couple of months ago his AvMPG had been around 20.5 and he wanted to see a 25 per cent increase in AvMPG to help offset the rising prices he had to pay for gas.

I asked a few more questions and he opened up and admitted he was becoming quite devoted to the practice of hypermiling. He thought about increasing MPG and AvMPG all the time while behind the wheel, and his AvMPG was already 24.0 to 24.5 and that meant saving at least $1,000 annually on gasoline.

This is a text book illustration of what simple embedded electronics and data displays can do to change our relationship with our machines and our world and with each other. The effect of a real-time data feed that displays performance data back to an operator allows that person to make continuous adjustments to maximize efficiency as conditions change, and all those simple adjustments start to add up in significant ways (I'm talking about the performance of cars here, but the same principles apply to the performance of whole companies if they can learn to harness the power of self-adjusting feedback loops).

Hard core hypermilers practice and refine their techniques relentlessly, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can't start learning to do the basic stuff now and then move on from there. It involves applying some principles like pump up your tires to the maximum rating shown on their sidewalls to reduce rolling resistance; use low viscosity engine oil to reduce engine resistance; keep your engine speed down (many cars have a sweet spot at around 40-45 MPH where they get the highest MPG) but do go for higher speeds when gliding down hills, avoid unnecessary braking and try coasting to a stop.

One day we took a drive out into the country to a town about 70 miles away and I started to see the possibilities of hypermiling. The game is infectious. You get caught up in how to play each stretch of road and navigate through other traffic and how to time the stop lights so you don't have to use your brakes.

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