The team at Earthrise Technologies got in touch a few weeks ago with an offer for us to test out their brand new Eco-Navigator, a GPS based device that's been designed to give drivers a better idea as to their fuel consumption and costs.
I was immediately interested in this product as a number of years ago, I came up with what I thought would be a great invention... A device that you'd plug between say, a lamp and the wall outlet. From there, the idea was once you entered your energy cost, the device would display the cost to operate the unit on a per hour/day/month/year on a small LCD screen.
I never pursued the idea and have since found very similar devices on hardware store shelves, but I've always been intrigued by that concept of putting real, understandable numbers on these measures of energy consumption, and in a nutshell, this is exactly what the Eco-Navigator does, but for your car!
Built around the concept of a portable GPS Navigation system, the Eco-Navigator runs Microsoft's CE Mobile operating system, coming preinstalled with a variety of software. Most importantly is Eco-Way, which is Earthrise's proprietary fuel consumption software, and Destinator 9, a third party GPS Navigational software package.
Miles per Gallon, Litres per 100 Kilometres... I know these numbers are universal measurements of a vehicle's fuel efficiency but what do they REALLY mean? How much does it REALLY cost you to drive to work every day? How much fuel does it REALLY take to spin up to the mall for a coffee? Couldn't be much, could it?
Well, obviously that depends on how far you're going, but if your driving patterns are anywhere similar to mine, then you're going to be blown away but the amount of fuel you're consuming for even the tiniest of trips.
I drive a 2001 Volvo V70XC Cross Country, which isn't the most fuel friendly vehicle on the planet, but it's better than most comparably sized SUV's and it gets the job done for everything I need it to do.
It's important to note that the Eco-Navigator is primarily compatible with most 2004 and newer vehicles, so the calculations displayed for my 2001 Volvo aren't intended to be entirely accurate, but they do give me some degree of insight into the vehicle's overall efficiency.
I asked Jim DiSanto of Earthrise Technologies about this and he said “We use a stoichiometric formula based on MAF, RPM, LTFT, and other parameters. Our commercial agreements and packaging state "2004 or later". Earlier vehicles the OBD is not consistent with the new standards so there are disparities.”
That said though, our 2001 V70XC's in-car mileage computer was reasonably in-line with Eco-Navigator's calculations... The Eco-Navigator claiming an average of 13.5 l/100, whereas the in-car computer read somewhere in the range of 12-12.5 l/100.
Not perfectly accurate, but not too far off the mark. I have yet to fully test the unit on a 2004 or newer vehicle, so consider my testings incomplete at this time.
Again, it's important to note that the system is designed to work with 2004 and later vehicles!
The Eco-Navigator is comprised of a head unit, docking station and wiring harnesses that connect the head unit into the vehicle's OBD-II interface.
If you're not familiar with OBD-II, it's a relatively new standard on most newer vehicles that's typically used by mechanics to check the vehicle's electronic diagnostics. This includes things such as fault codes, engine temperatures, and other valuable information that can help mechanics to diagnose a problem.
The Eco-Navigator uses a touch screen input system which is nice, but I did find a couple of faults.
One point is the user receives audible feedback regardless of where a user taps the screen. Thus, if you've got big fingers like me, you may find yourself clicking a few times before the system responds with your selection.
Compounding this issue are instances when the system is slow to respond, and I've found myself frustratingly tapping the button a number of times before finally getting a response from the system.
That said, it isn't too bad once you get used to it, but the learning curve can be a tad frustrating at times.
The process of tracking your vehicle's efficiency is reasonably straightforward... Click into Eco-Way on the main screen, then tap the New Trip button.
Start driving and upon completing your trip, click the End Trip button.
Then when you're connected to the web via USB or their wireless network, your information will be uploaded to their web portal for viewing and analysis.
Pretty straightforward process and everything goes very smoothly once you get past the initial learning curve.
The Eco-Way software also allows you to check fuel consumption related diagnostics such as Intake Manifold Pressure, Fuel Levels, Intake and Coolant Temperatures, Oil Pressure, MAF Rate and more.
Eco-Way can also act as a basic OBD-II scanner, as it has the ability to check car queries for any DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code) or pending DTC's that result from ongoing tests running in the vehicle's systems.
The Eco-Navigator also comes equipped with Destinator 9, a third party GPS navigational software package.
Destinator 9 generally performs as intended, and successfully directed me to the test destinations I fed it. Destinator 9 is quite well received in the market, so I'll leave further review of that software to your research as I don't have a ton of experience with competing products.
I will say that it would have been nice to have been able to track Eco-Way's readings directly on-screen while using the GPS software to navigate. The system does have the ability to multi-task, so the system will indeed continue recording your Eco-Way stats while using Destinator 9, just that you can't view your fuel statistics while Destinator 9 occupies the screen.
The Eco-Navigator also comes equipped with an array of bonus features, including a trial account with the Telenor GPRS wireless web access.
This not only allows for wireless Eco-Way trip uploads on the fly, but since the unit is based on Microsoft's CE platform, you can also use a mobile version of Internet Explorer to access the web. Just don't expect iPhone like usability, and be sure you bring a stylus along as the keyboard extremely compact.
The system also has MP3 audio and MP4 video playback capabilities, but audio playback is somewhat limited due to the lack of an output jack.
The video playback feature however makes for a nice touch if you're in a pinch... Switch out the map card with an SD card loaded with a few kids' videos in MP4 format, and you've got a nice way for the little ones to pass the time on longer drives.
Overall, I absolutely love the Eco-Navigator concept and I feel the system will satisfy people that are enthusiastic and interested in details pertaining to their vehicle's fuel efficiency.
In a nutshell, the Eco-Navigator provides detailed and useful fuel efficiency statistics and tracking that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else... All at a price that's hard to beat, especially considering the useful (but sometimes quirky) extra bonus features.
That said, though I think the Earthrise team is onto something with this concept, and should see so good success once they polish up the user interface and improve its performance.