Telematics and EVs: Reducing “range anxiety”

Telematics and EVs: Reducing “range anxiety”

While in-car apps are perks for most drivers, they become essential for drivers of electric cars, who have to deal with “range anxiety”—the worry that they will run out of charge before they get to their destination.

Even though the initial number of electric cars on the road will be small compared to the overall number of vehicles, “EVs are helping to really push the connected car experience because of their unique demands,” says Scott Sedlik, vice president of marketing for Inrix, a provider of traffic information services.

The Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt will arrive at dealerships already connected to some services.

The Leaf’s EV-IT system, developed in-house, will show the current range for the car, along with the most current information on available charging stations, while Web and smartphone apps will allow drivers to remotely start or check charging.

The Volt will ship with five years of OnStar service and a mobile application included, allowing drivers to remotely start or monitor charging, as well as a website that lets customers enter information such as their utility provider.

“Our strategy is to get that information where it belongs without having to create new hardware,” says Paul Pebbles, a business service manager at OnStar.

Pebbles adds that the service has capabilities in place to process the new streams of data from electric vehicles.

More than maps

Drivers will need more than simply a map showing reachable charging stations, however.

“There’s also question of what you do at a charging station once you’ve found it,” says Louis Brugman, general manager, product planning, for Pioneer Automotive Technologies.

Charging takes a lot longer than getting gas, so stations will have to provide some form of diversion while drivers recharge.

Pioneer is looking at mapping algorithms that will take into account the kind of tasks consumers might accomplish during the wait.

The company is also talking to local search providers, although Brugman would not disclose which ones.

Monitoring vehicle systems

Monitoring all the vehicle systems is a complex challenge, according to Brian Droessler, vice president of strategy and portfolio for Continental’s Infotainment & Connectivity Business Unit.

“The effect of the sun or the temperature in general on the battery can drastically change how much charge you have available and how far you can go,” Droessler says.

“So, by monitoring the temperature in the vehicle and knowing where the person wants to go next, you could alert the user that, because the temperature has risen, the available miles to empty charge have been reduced. So, you may want to consider finding a place to charge.” (For more insights from Brian Droessler, read his TU interview.

As more charging stations go online, other kinds of information will be useful, too.

Charging stations will need to send out information about whether there are open berths or when the next one will be available and, most likely, be able to take reservations.

“The good news is that much of the charging station infrastructure has been standardized,” says Mark Perry, director of product planning for Nissan.

“As far as the ability to reserve a time in the future, everybody sees the application but no standard has been developed. The question will be, Do we have a common set of communication protocols and information that gets passed or, in the worst case, many variations?”

Reservations required

TomTom is working on setting up communication and services that will help EV drivers find charge points and reserve a space that will be integrated with its navigation experience.

“We are working with car manufacturers and different parties in the industry developing these charging points,” says Rik van Aken, director of marketing and product management, automotive, for TomTom.

“We have built the infrastructure to keep it up-to-date very easily, using the TomTom Home PC application, which has a back-end server where we add the information.”

“It will take a complex web of relationships,” Sedlik agrees.

If there’s a traffic jam on the way to one charging station, for example, the car may not be able to make it, even though it has enough charge for that range.

Or it may reach the charging station later than the reservation period, something it would be useful for the station operator to track.

Reducing complexity

Another useful service would evaluate the car’s route and let the driver know that it would be more efficient to park at a public transportation lot, where the car can recharge while the driver continues the commute on public transportation.

“The complexity of what’s going on in the background is tremendous,” Sedlik says.

“We’re working on providing a simple user interface to make these immediate decisions.” (For more on EVs and telematics, see ‘How telematics will drive the uptake of electric vehicles.’)

Electric cars will need persistent connectivity to tap into all these services.

The Leaf will have an onboard head unit that uses AT&T’s cellular network to connect to a global data center; the Volt will leverage GM’s OnStar hardware and services.

“Once scale is under way in building this infrastructure and more and more electric vehicles hit the streets, the need for a wireless connectivity and communication strategy with those vehicles will rapidly become a priority,” says Chris Carfagnini, executive director, emerging technology and media for Alcatel-Lucent, which produces technology supporting the LTE mobile networking standard.

Says TomTom’s van Akin, “This is a green field situation, and it starts next year. Everybody has to get experience and see what works.”

Susan Kuchinskas is a regular contributor to TU.

To learn more about Telematics and EVs visit – Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Conference & Exhibition Europe 2010– 16th-17th November – Munich Germany.

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