A demonstration of FST sensors installed on a diesel engine exhaust system. Pictured, from left: Alexander Sappok PhD '09 (president, FST), Gary Christenson (mayor, City of Malden), Neal Anderson (president, Malden City Council), Greg Bialecki (Massachusetts State Secretary of Housing and Economic Development)

People rightfully dislike wireless signals being transmitted from the person behind the wheel when they text while drive, but there are times when a car's wireless signals can be good news. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have found a way to use wireless signals under the hood to help cut pollution from heavy-duty vehicles such as diesel-powered trucks. That's something we can get behind.

Soot is a natural absorbent of RF signals.

According to an Because of the results from that MIT study, a company called Filter Sensing Technologies (FST) received funding from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy to develop a system in which radio-frequency (RF) signals can be used to monitor soot buildup on truck and bus filters. Soot is a natural absorbent of RF signals, so the condition of such filters can be revealed by the strength of the RF signals going through them. FST now specializes in making such soot-buildup sensors and is actually run by a former MIT student.

The upshot is RF makes it possible to examine diesel soot filters for their cleanliness (or lack thereof), which means they can be cleaned more efficiency and the interval between filter cleanings can be extended because of greater accuracy from the data collected by such sensors. That cuts energy use because of the fuel used for the high heat the hot water required for such a cleaning process happens when it needs to happen instead of at predetermined intervals.

The timing of the report is interesting, as earlier this week, the United Nations released a paper estimating that 83 percent of Europe's emissions and 97 percent of North America's come from sources other than diesel engines, and that the diesel-engine industry has made great strides advancing technology to cut pollutants from the engine. Check out an article about the new RF uses in the MIT Spectrum here.

UPDATE: This article has been corrected.