Electric Vehicles Getting Smarter Every Day

By · April 13, 2011

Electric vehicles need to be admired not only for their bodies, but also for their brains. The second wave of EVs and plug-in hybrids are likely to be even smarter than the first as automakers are enhancing their telematics features.

Vehicles coming out later this year, the Ford Focus Electric and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid will include enhanced telematics features that will enable drivers to comfortably make it to their destinations while consuming the minimum amount of electrons. Toyota is partnering with Microsoft so that its vehicles can communicate with Microsoft's cloud technology, known as Windows Azure. Toyota's Media Service division is peering into the home energy management market, and will enable its EVs and their accompanying mobile applications to control electricity consumption in both the car and the home.

IT for EV is growing market.

IT for EV is growing market.

Ford, which has its own successful telematics platform in Sync (co-developed with Microsoft) that works with smartphones, recently added AT&T as a telematics partner for linking car data with mobile phones. Ford had previously focused on using the handset as the car communications platform, but the company recognized the advantage of having connectivity in the car, and so has shifted its philosophy for the Focus Electric.

In addition the automakers themselves, telematics companies focusing on EVs abound, including Airbiquity, Automatiks and Telogis, just to name a few. These companies are extending applications such as green routing to avoid traffic and energy efficiency for fleet managers.

This increase in the brain power could spell trouble for the makers of electric vehicle charging equipment (EVSE), who want their devices and not the cars themselves to be the center of smart vehicle charging. Many of the functions for smart charging—such as delaying a vehicle charge until off-peak hours, getting alerts about completed charging, and location data about charging stations—are redundant between a telematics system and the EVSE.

Companies such as GE, Siemens, Ecotality and Coulomb Technologies see the car-home connection as a great opportunity to expand the value of the equipment and are working on integrating their software with home energy management systems. They are ahead of the automakers in this regard today, but may not be for long if the major OEMs follow Toyota's lead. GM, the granddaddy of telematics with its 15-year old OnStar platform and Ford are both watching the home energy space to see how it develops.

For now, the momentum in the "Where will the intelligence go?" seems to be with EV telematics. Coulomb Technologies CTO Richard Lowenthal conceded during a recent conference that as EVs get more smarts inside, some functions such as smart charging may become redundant and unnecessary in EVSEs.

(I'll be chatting with executives from Ford and GM during a telematics panel at the Green:Net conference in San Francisco on April 21).


· · 7 years ago

With a lot of smarts in the car, the main benefit I see to adding smarts and connectivity to the charger is the ability to tell if the charger is working or occupied remotely without having to waste time driving there.
It can also be used to provide a bit of security through security cameras.

· · 7 years ago

@ex-EV1 driver,

I couldn't agree more. This information will be more valuable over time as the number of plug-in cars increases, and charging stalls start filling up.

· Chris T. (not verified) · 7 years ago

Both the car and charging stations can (and should) be "smart". The cost of software lies almost entirely in the development. Once the code is done, supporting one installation, or supporting one million (identical) installations, costs about the same. (Of course there are some extra costs associated with updating, but once again, they lie primarily in the development. Getting automatic updating working correctly is the key enabling technology.)

· · 7 years ago

I believe that one of the most important of the "features that will enable drivers to comfortably make it to their destinations" is the ability of a vehicle to evaluate a route's terrain (elevation) and provide a more accurate calculation of battery consumption for that terrain (i.e., hills). Current car software - example the Leaf's - is ignorant of terrain so is almost useless anywhere except flat land.

· · 7 years ago

@Bruce N.

I like your idea of factoring in terrain in the range estimate. Wind conditions could even be included.

· Priusmaniac (not verified) · 7 years ago

Software systems may be good but I wouldn’t like a Windows bug when starting my car. I would also be dubious of I phone like spyware or even worse, software control takeover trough piracy, that would send my car at full speed on a road or turn unexpectedly while driving. On the plus side, terrain knowledge would indeed increase range accuracy, effective charging management could allow lower price charging and it would be convenient to activate car features from a distance like airco, battery status check or on board camera control. Peak shaving would also be a plus in the sense that grid power supply price is usually determined by peak power demand. A car would allow lower grid power demand while providing for higher peak power supply. On a longer term basis, cars could allow traffic lights suppression by allowing cars crossings in controlled, near miss, configuration where no one stands still but all the cars are so synchronized that collision less crossings becomes possible. Instant parking place localization would also be interesting.

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