The car companies know full well that EV infrastructure is in an early stage, so they are developing systems that help relieve some of the range anxiety.
The Nissan Leaf, for example, runs only on electric power and has a range of about 100 miles. It uses a system called Carwings that's based on Microsoft Windows Embedded Automotive 7. Through an in-dash system, the driver can plan a trip and determine whether he will find electric charging stations along the way and where they are. Existing EV stations are most often located at gas stations. Carwings also works on the iPhone and shows the current charge level, or state, so the driver can make decisions about routes before even getting into the car. The tool also lets the driver set climate controls to preheat or precool the car while it's being charged so that in cold weather, for instance, the heat is already flowing.
Mainly, the goal is to help drivers understand more about the onboard charge state and range, so they can decide whether they want to start driving. Nissan also sends a monthly update on power usage patterns via e-mail. With that data, a driver can change a commuter route or adjust climate settings and see how that impacts the battery.
Gregg Hedgren, the EV project manager at Nissan, says the company uses algorithms to look for patterns in the EV data, such as the total miles driven per charge on average and how climate controls, including air conditioning, impact range. "We're mainly focused on the unique aspects of the EV, and there is not a tremendous amount of data [collected for EVs] beyond battery and powertrain," he says. "We will continue to refine our research and algorithms, such as how frequent acceleration impacts range, and feed that data back to the driver."
For now, charging station location data is updated only once per quarter, says Hedgren, and that's often enough in this early phase of the EV infrastructure.
However, Nissan is looking at how it can partner with power companies to help drivers not just find charging stations, but also reserve them during prime charging times or even prepay for charging from the car. Another goal is to work together to help balance the overall power utility load.
Helping design the electric vehicle
IT has also been heavily involved in the design of the electric car itself. This includes developing software for charging sensors and creating industry standards for charging ports.
One of the best examples of how IT helped with designing an electric car is the Chevy Volt. GM deployed a fleet of 350 preproduction Volts to early testers, many of them GM employees, and captured data from each one. In part because of the data analysis, GM was able to design the Volt in just three years rather than the usual five.