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Fare fight? Try tamper-proof meter

New Delhi, March 2: An argument between an autorickshaw driver and a passenger over the fare two years ago sparked a student project that may evolve into tamper-proof electronic fare meters and quarrel-free rides in metros.

Two computer science students in New Delhi have developed an electronic meter equipped with a satellite-aided, self-tracking device and a microprocessor to compute the distance and the fare without, they claim, scope for tampering.

The students will describe their work at a conference on emerging technologies that opened here today. The meter was among the top three technologies in a nationwide innovation contest organised by Hewlett-Packard for engineering students in 2008.

“The innovation needs to be tested in real world conditions, but if it works out as intended it could have huge ramifications,” said Vinnie Jauhari, the head of HP Labs Open Innovation Office in India.

“We invited them to the conference so they could be connected with venture capital expected here,” Jauhari told The Telegraph.

The new meter relies on a commercially available Global Positioning System (GPS) device that uses satellites to determine longitude and latitude readings with high accuracy.

A device may be configured to deliver the position of a vehicle twice every second, allowing a microprocessor to compute the distance travelled each second.

GPS receivers, which use a constellation of satellites to provide position information, may be purchased from commercial retailers. Such receivers — hand-held or fitted on vehicles — have been used in air, road and sea navigation for years.

“A driver or an auto mechanic won’t be able to tamper with the GPS or the microprocessor the way they can play with the mechanical meters or with some electronic meters,” said Ashish Gupta, a student pursuing masters in computer applications at the Jagan Institute of Management Sciences, New Delhi.

Gupta said the concept of the new meter came to him after he saw a passenger engaged in a long argument with an autorickshaw driver.

In an attempt to test the precision of the current electronic meters, he took a 7km autorickshaw ride every day between two exact spots for a month. “I got different readings for more than half the month. Sometimes the distance was 7.5km, sometimes it was 10km,” he said.

Gupta and his colleague Rahul Gupta purchased GPS devices and microprocessors and wrote software to integrate the components with electronic fare meters. They estimate the additional cost for the new components would range from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000.

Jauhari said each of the top 10 innovations picked by the HP Innovate initiative had been reviewed by two independent experts under a double-blind mechanism — in which neither the participants nor the reviewers knew each others’ identities.

“We wanted to eliminate any bias associated with certain institutions. The HP Innovate initiative is part of an effort to create an ecosystem of innovation in engineering institutions,” she said.

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