ORLANDO — A couple of years ago, Michael Bragg of Apopka, left, noticed his girlfriend (now his wife) jotting something down in a small notebook. She was, he learned, keeping track of her car's fuel mileage. "Her family had always done that," he said, "and she just started doing it, too."
And it occurred to him that he had no idea what sort of fuel mileage he was getting in his own Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup, or how much he was spending on gasoline each year. When he tallied up that last figure, and found out that his annual fuel expense was more than $3,000, he suddenly got interested.
As a professional software engineer, Bragg, 38, worked up a simple computer program that kept track of his fuel expenses and his truck's mileage.
He began adding features that tracked mileage trends and incorporated information on how to improve mileage. When he offered the program to friends, he learned they were as interested as he was.
Thus began the Web site FuelClinic.com, which launched in May 2008. It allows free access to the programs Bragg developed. And for that matter, it's still developing because he has quit his job and is working full-time on the next generation of FuelClinic.com.
But if it's free, where's the income? That will happen as he partners with other companies from around the world, including one in Brazil working to reduce air pollution from automobiles, and another in England renowned for its driver training ability. Bragg is even hoping to partner with IBM on a project.
Much of this is being made possible because of FuelClinic.com's second-place finish in the IBM-sponsored Intelligent Transportation Society "Congestion Challenge," which drew 116 entries from 20 countries. The award was announced last month at the 16th World Congress on ITS in Stockholm, Sweden.
Unfortunately, second place came with no prize money — first place, awarded to a company in Washington state that helps organize carpools, got $50,000 — but the recognition is helping, Bragg said.
In a nutshell, FuelClinic.com is "a driver-improvement system that helps create safer, smarter, more efficient drivers," according to the company Web site. "In consumer applications this system helps families save money on fuel, reduce (carbon) emissions, find deficiencies in inexperienced or young drivers, and helps motorists become generally safer and more professional drivers."
Bragg also is working on a professional application targeted at businesses and fleet managers that, he said, helps them train employees, reduce fuel expenses and reinforce safety initiatives.
Bragg said one of his goals is to take the idea of fuel savings more mainstream, away from the traditional dedicated, hybrid-driving environmentalist who makes a second career out of saving fuel. Bragg is not telling people that they have to buy a Toyota Prius — he still has that four-wheel-drive truck, in fact — but he is saying that by modifying your driving habits, your routes and other easily manageable changes, you can save a lot of fuel, and a lot of money.
He is even sponsoring a Sports Car Club of America sports car team because many auto races hinge on who can get the best mileage.
Bragg said there are few secret techniques on saving fuel. You know most of them — such as avoid traffic jams, accelerate and brake gradually. "In general, just calm down," Bragg said. "It's amazing how much difference your driving style makes in the mileage you get."
Remember his Toyota four-wheel-drive pickup? Before he started FuelClinic.com, "I was averaging 18 to 19 miles per gallon." Now, he averages 23 mpg.