PHILADELPHIA—Under federal mandate, all vehicles built after September 2008 must have tire pressure monitoring systems as standard equipment. But how can drivers of older vehicles learn that their tire pressures are getting low?
Daniel Lang, an 18-year-old doctoral student in mechanical engineering at Drexel University, started thinking about this question soon after Bridgestone/Firestone announced its recall of 6.5 million tires in August 2000.
"I´ve always been interested in cars in general," Lang said. "But the recall sparked my interest in the tire issue. Before that, tires were something I took for granted. But after that, I became interested in their role in vehicle safety."
To give all motorists a chance to check their tire pressures automatically, Lang invented a passive testing system that can be installed next to any gas pump.
Professional scientists and engineers were so impressed with Lang´s tire monitoring system that they gave him first place in the engineering category at the U.S. Junior Science and Humanities Symposiums in San Diego in spring 2005-an award that came with an automatic invitation to present his findings at the U.S. Army Science Conference in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 27-30, 2006.
Under Lang´s system, all motorists would have to do is align their cars over a metal strip parallel to the gas pump every time they come in for a fill-up. Using treadles composed of strain gauges, the system determines whether all four tires are properly inflated, based on the strain certain areas of each tire apply to the sensors.
This is actually the fourth passive tire monitoring system Lang has developed, but the first three were not as accurate as this system.
Lang originally designed his system to work in conjunction with the E-ZPass electronic toll collection systems used on turnpikes in the Northeast. After about two years of working on his invention, he approached the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission with it in 2004. The commission allowed him to test the system at its Harrisburg testing facility.
"They were extremely happy that everything worked out well," Lang said.
Lang said he is weighing his options on whether to sell his system to oil companies, turnpike commissions, municipalities, research companies or the Army. A major oil company approached him with an offer at the San Diego symposium, but he said he had to turn it down because his patent hadn´t yet come through. Now that it has, he is ready to entertain offers.
Lang is taking business management courses at Drexel, with an eye toward forming his own company to market his inventions. He also hopes eventually to get an engineering job in the auto industry.