GM Is Using Bolts With Computer BrainsS

Have you ever been working on your car and stared down at the greasy bolts in your hand and felt smug and superior because you have the ability to store information and they don't? If so, I have some bad news for you: GM is using bolts with RFID chips that store information about engine manufacturing processes.

These bolts look like conventional bolts, but are internally quite different: the heads are hollow, and contain and RFID chip and a coil of wire that acts as an antenna, all encased in epoxy. The RFID chip is capable of storing 2K (2048 bytes), which isn't all that much by today's standards, but happens to be the same amount of data on an Atari Combat cartridge, for example.

The bolts are used on the Gen 5 small block engine blocks and heads, and data is either read and/or written to the bolts 50 times along the production line. GM describes the bolt's functions as

There are 29 machining processes for Gen 5 blocks and 11 machining processes for Gen 5 heads. Databolts are installed on each block and head at the beginning to help ensure that no processes are missed. At the end of machining, the databolt travels with the part to the assembly line where the block and head are assembled into an engine. Databolts can reliably identify the exact time and place a block or head goes through each process.

The databolts are scanned at the end of machining line to confirm successful completion of all processes. Databolts also help confirm that each engine block is leak-free when tested. If a flaw is discovered on a block or head, its databolt enables identification of the blocks and heads made before and after the part for further inspection. This allows line operators to determine if the issue was an anomaly or a larger problem. This measure also helps ensure that no defective parts leave the plant. At end of the assembly line the databolt is removed, and reused.

And that bit of press release also reveals that, sadly, these smart bolts don't actually leave the factory. At some point in the future, though, RFID-equipped bolts and parts could contain valuable data for mechanics and hobbyists, tracking for stolen cars even if they're parted out, and more.

Or, we could finally store old Atari games on bolts.