Oakland University is demonstrating a way to use radio frequency (RF) devices to control electrical features such as power windows and mirrors on board a Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The setup has the potential to cut warranty costs $300 per vehicle - from up to $1,200 today - and trim some $6 million off engineering, development and validation costs, says the program's director, Patrick E. Dessert.

Mr. Dessert says Daimler-Chrysler Corp., the U.S. Army National Automotive Center and four suppliers, ArvinMeritor Inc., Eaton Corp., Lear Corp. and TRW Inc. kicked in $5 million toward the program, the largest research and development initiative Oakland University has ever undertaken.

Use of RF nodes to control in-car features would eliminate the need for a wiring harness, Mr. Dessert says. All that would be required is a simple power line running through the vehicle, similar to the way landscape lighting is controlled, he says.

In the event of a failure, a limp mode would allow other RF nodes aboard the vehicle to take over control of the affected system. Notice of the malfunction also would be beamed over the Internet to the car dealer's service department, where it would be diagnosed. Costs would be saved in part because a dealer could order a new part, ship it to the customer for replacement or have it waiting when the customer brings the vehicle in for service. "It would transform the service department into a pit crew," says Mr. Dessert. He estimates DC could save $900 million annually.

Getting rid of the wiring harness also could cut manufacturing costs and production time, he says. Car producers could add features much later in the production process because they wouldn't be restricted by what a wiring harness is designed to handle.