Saturday, February 11, 2012

From Crystal Receiver to Road Pricing

Retired, and still going strong, old habits remain. In the early fifties I discovered two items, that facilitated me to build some primitive radio - the necessary ingredients left by a cousin on the upper floor of his parental home, and a copy of a periodical that contained an article on 'how-to'. Interestingly, the author proved to be one of those innovative Philips people of the famous Eindhoven research institute Natlab (a first and foremost target of Soviet postwar blitz-attack plans). Under an alias he was enabled to teach people the components  and applications of the secrets of the 'ether-realm'. My subsequent spanning of a roof antenna, and successful scratching under the blankets of the crystal remained reserved to my early teens.
Half a century later, in the early years of the new millennium, I read in an ad in the newspaper, that the Minister of Traffic and Transport wanted to implement road pricing. However, they still were not knowing how to build the box that was needed in each car to make the system work. Promised was a a first prize of €100.000 for anyone who could successfully. 
My initial anger, that still no proper design wass available, was soon surpassed by the need, that it had to be coined. Firstly, I concluded that a German cousin of mine, with ample experience in building dedicated computers, was needed to control my work for present day requirements. He admitted to cooperate and we answered 10 questions as the opening part of the contest. I emailed these immediately to the evaluation team. Then, I went to the library searching for a clue in that same old periodical, although renamed by now. I soon found what I needed and made the crucial diagram. My German cousin agreed with my design, and I delivered the design and the report personally to my familiar ministry. However, eventually it resulted in the remarkable decision not to award a first prize. And afterwards I was also surprisingly informed, not having ansewered the 10 questions, so I was disqualified.
Yet, the design was presented by my cousin to the German government party CDU, that wanted road pricing for freight trucks on German roads. The Siemens company produced the boxes and now hundreds of thousands fare the German infrastructure these days. As the design was supposed to be public from the start, I presented the design in the proper expertise environment, so everyone could make the box. As the design was also basic to making the TomTom, my design should have been a great help there too. The whole affair cost me some money, but I do not regret having money and time invested in the project.