By on May 24, 2013

Some forty years in the making, start-stop  technology has arrived on your smartphone. Volkswagen launched an app that stops YouTube videos automatically when you look away from the screen. And it starts again, when you look back. The app uses facial recognition technology to capture when the viewer is looking away, only to resume when eyeballs are back on screen. PWHS (People With Heightened Sensitivities) will not like it: Averting your eyes during a shocking scene on YouTube won’t help anymore. The price of progress, I guess.
But what are the origins of this startling technology?

startstop-popular science

The 1974 pioneer, largely ignored

Start-stop technology has come a long, long, very long way. One of, maybe the first start-stop systems was invented by Toyota. In October 1974, the first oil crisis was in full swing, Bob Dunham reported in Popular Science and from Tokyo that “Toyota has developed an automatic engine stop-start system that is likely to become available as an option if fuel shortages continue.” The system would shut off the ignition if the car would be stopped for longer than 1.5 seconds. It was available on a six cylinder Toyota Crown, where it would “restart when the driver pushed out the clutch.” Four decades ago, the system gave the writer “10-percent better fuel economy,” along with a reduction of CO2 emissions, which “are highest when the engine is idling.”


In 1979, there was a second oil crisis. This one looked like it was here to stay. Volkswagen introduced a start-stop system in the early 80s, on the Volkswagen Santana and its sibling, the Passat. Volkswagen insisted on calling it a “Stop-Start-Anlage (SSA),” because first it stops the car, then it starts. The discussion about what comes first, the start or the stop, rages on until today.

Hand-operated early Volkswagen system – largely ignored

In the first iterations of the SSA, the engine had to be stopped with the push of a button. When gas and clutch were engaged, the engine did start. Later, it stopped automatically, like with the Toyota gizmo ten years before. The SSA did sound like a good idea, but it was rarely used. As a standalone option, it was nearly never ordered. Santana historian Tilman Grund  thinks that by 1986, the SSA may have “existed only in the catalog.” People were scared to use it. The few that bought it did so as placebo sedative for the green conscience, but left it switched off. Not coincidentally, by 1986, oil prices were down to pre-1974 levels, and two golden decades of cheap black gold ensued, stunting the growth of the gizmo.

Zooming oil prices after the turn of the millennium, along with progress in electronics and mechanics, and the rising acceptance of hybrid systems helped the start-stop, stop-start, or idle stop systems become mainstream – despite its occasional critics. And now, it’s available on your phone.  Where do you think the fortunes of the start-stop system and the futures of oil are going?

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9 Comments on “Start-Stop System: Now Available On YOUR Smartphone – Or is it a stop-start system?...”

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Believe it or not, the purring noise of the engine makes them sleep.

    If they get to tough to sleep, a ride in the car for around 2 kms is usually enough.

  • avatar

    Any stop-start system that relies on the starter motor will probably negate any fuel savings when said motor dies a premature death from all the hard work expected of it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not aware of any automotive applications that use a ring-gear mounted starter for start-stop function. They employ an accessory drive starter/generator system.

      Their design appears to be a bit more robust as compared to a traditional starter which is designed for high torque but in short bursts. We’ll see how the new systems pan out, but I’m sure the demands put on the system are being taken into account.

    • 0 avatar

      Is the TTAC crowd getting smarter?

      I know that SKF worked with PSA some time ago on a starter motor that can handle the extra abuse.
      Apart from me knowing that, did you really think car manufacturers would not think about this?

      • 0 avatar

        My understanding is the traditional starter motor only spins the motor fast enough to “catch”, something like 250RPM, and it does take an extra bit of fuel to start like that, as well as not being very smooth.

        The modern stop start systems spin the engine up to idle speed (700-1000 RPM) and then “start” it.

  • avatar

    Samsung has a similar feature on the new Galaxy S4 smartphone which they call “Smart Pause.”

    • 0 avatar

      Is that so your video stops when you have to take your eyes off your phone to look at the road?

    • 0 avatar

      The S3 has similar tech, it watches for your face and only dims the screen when you are not looking. My favorite trick is the auto-rotate, it can tell the difference between you tilting the phone to get the landscape view, vs. lying down on the couch when you want to keep viewing in portrait.

      This tech is pretty well established, I am guessing that VW did this as a sort of publicity stunt to promote their stop start system.

  • avatar

    How ’bout having the car yell at you if it’s in gear, moving along at at least 5 MPH, and you take your eyes off the windshield for more than two seconds? That’ll still allow glances to the HVAC controls and radio, and checks over your shoulder for lane changes.

    Of course, given the number of people I’ve seen ignore the seat-belt warning chime, perhaps having a flyswatter descend rapidly from the headliner toward the side of the driver’s head would be more effective.

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