Invented in 1898 by Robert Bosch and Nikola Tesla, the ubiquitous spark plug is about to take a bow. Kind of about time, don’t you think?
There isn’t much on your MINI that was there 50 years ago. The body, the chassis, the glass, the engine components, the dash components… they’re all either made of newer materials that didn’t exist back then or they’re linked in to an internal computer network.
All save the lowly spark plug. That hasn’t changed much, relatively speaking, since it was invented before the turn of the century. The last century.
Now technology has finally turned its gaze upon the spark that fires up your engine. Delivered by a thin, fiber-optic cable to a focusing lens, the Laser spark plug takes up much less space than the old-fashioned kind, allowing engineers greater flexibility in designing valves and cylinders. So who knows where that will take us? But more importantly these days, the laser beam can be split to ignite the fuel mixture from multiple points deep within the cylinder, making for a more efficient burn than the relatively random spark plug can achieve, which can’t help but reduce emissions and generate better fuel economy.
And here’s another advantage: it’s smart. That is, part of the beam can be reflected to a receiver and used to gather data on the fuel mixture and the quality of the burn, so engineers can constantly improve it and – who knows – maybe the system can be taught to adjust itself to optimize spark to engine requirements on the fly?
Currently, they are working on prototypes of the system at the University of Liverpool laboratory. Ford, which has eagerly been adopting fuel efficiency technology such as electric-power steering and six-speed transmissions, reportedly will use the laser ignition system in some of its cars over the next couple of years, then spread the technology to the full range.
I’m sure it won’t be long before the old Bosch/Tesla version is a collector’s item, and your MINI is laser-fired.
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