Eco Routing: 10 Percent More Range From an EV-Friendly GPS

By · July 20, 2012

Eco Routing

The University of California is working on a GPS designed for the unique range challenges of the EV. (UC Riverside photo)

The average electric car travels 100 miles on a charge, though that can be affected somewhat by weather and other factors. Nissan is going through some issues this week with LEAF batteries losing range (one driver says he can go only 44 miles) in temperatures above 100 Fahrenheit in Arizona. Obviously, then, range extenders are helpful.

Two Roads Converge

Enter the University of California, Riverside, which says it can extend electric car range 10 percent without changing the vehicle’s drivetrain at all. It got a $95,000 grant from the California Energy Commission, and will begin trials with an electric car early next year. How will it work? To paraphrase Robert Frost, when two roads converge, you can’t take them both. Sometimes the path less traveled by will yield better results. That’s the idea behind Eco Route, a GPS system especially built for EVs.

According to Kanok Boriboonsomsin, an associate professor on the research faculty, most GPS systems merely look for the shortest travel distance. Eco Route, which is under development at the school’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT), works differently. In plotting a course, it looks at:

  • Traffic conditions, because being stuck in stop-and-go wastes tons of fuel, or electrons in this case;
  • Road types, because high-speed highways can be death on EV range, and some surface streets are in the EV’s sweet spot;
  • Road grades, because steep uphill climbs quickly erode range. You can actually gain range going downhill, due to regenerative braking.

Other factors include weather conditions, and weight. The system could measure how much junk you have in the trunk, and also how many passengers you’re carrying, and use that in route planning. Cars like the LEAF and Volt already incorporate cell-enabled features to help you find charging stations, and check whether they’re in use.

Collecting Smart Data

Boriboonsomsin said the grant will first be used to collect energy consumption data in real-world driving conditions on varying terrain and roads. That data will then be incorporated into tables to create consumption models for the test vehicle, and then integrated into an Eco Route algorithm. From that they can create a prototype GPS mapping unit that, who knows, may someday be standard equipment in your EV.

“We won’t put it on the market by ourselves,” Boriboonsomsin said. “Our role at the university is to develop the technology, and automakers will decide whether to adopt it.”

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