A new research project, ChargeCar, is developing a knowledge base for conversion of gas powered cars to electric vehicles, and the test bed is being prepared by a robotics program. A 2001 Scion xB has been converted to an electric commuter vehicle by Carnegie Mellon‘s Robotics Institute to serve as a test vehicle in the project which explores how electric vehicles can be customized for cost-effective commuting, increased efficiency, and extended battery life.
“Most electric cars today are being designed with top-down engineering to match the performance of gas-powered cars. Our goal is to revolutionize urban commuting by taking a different approach — by first analyzing the needs, conditions and habits of the daily commutes of actual people and then using this ‘commute ecology’ to develop electric vehicles suited to each unique commute.” – Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics
Researchers at ChargeCar have estimated that the typical commuter in Pittsburgh could save 80% of their energy costs by switching over to an electric vehicle from a gas one, and they have been working with mechanics in the area to develop expertise in the community for the conversion of vehicles to run on electricity.
At the heart of the project is something called smart power management, which uses artificial intelligence to manage the flow of power from the electric car batteries to a supercapacitor. The supercapacitor can rapidly store and release large amounts of electricity, which means it can be a buffer between the electric motors and the batteries, reducing the charging and discharging cycles that shorten the life of the batteries, as well as improving the responsiveness of the vehicle.
“Many people have talked about using supercapacitors as buffers on a battery, but we also will use artificial intelligence to manage how power is discharged and stored. Based on a driver’s route and habits, the smart power management system will decide whether to draw power for the electric motors from the batteries or the supercapacitor and decide where to store electricity produced by the regenerative braking system as the car slows down or goes down a hill.” – Nourbakhsh
One of the main goals of ChargeCar is to determine the best way to manage power in the vehicles, and the researchers have calculated that an intelligent controller could recoup 48% of the energy during braking, and a supercapacitor could reduce the load on the batteries by 56%, lengthening the life of the batteries. “The number one cost of electric vehicle ownership is the batteries,” said Nourbakhsh, and by increasing efficiency and battery life, the owners of electric vehicles will ultimately save money with smart power management.
A national clearinghouse for commuter data has been established by ChargeCar, and people are encouraged to gather their data from commuting via GPA and upload it to the database. The data can then help inform the commuters on the relative energy costs of gas vs. electric cars, plus show them the potential savings in battery wear and tear when using a supercapacitor. The database will also be available to electric car enthusiasts and researchers.