Telematics plays growing role in EV charging

  • 22-Sep-2011 11:05 EDT
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Telematics functions from Hughes let vehicle owners select cabin temperatures while vehicles are still plugged in, using the utility's electricity instead of the onboard battery's.

It is widely accepted that telematics will play an important role in reducing range anxiety for electric vehicle (EV) owners. Service providers are quickly developing additional functions and features such as smartphone apps in hopes of gaining a strong position in this emerging market.

Telematics services show drivers the location of charging stations within their range, helping alleviate range anxiety. Beyond that, they can help owners save money by employing a variety of programs.

One of the most common of these is determining when to charge a vehicle that’s at home. When telematics links are on vehicles, these systems can contact the utility to determine rates or whether there's a time-out period for high-power-demand devices such as EVs. That means charging stations don't have to include telephone connections; thus they can be cheaper.

“A smart charger costs a lot more than a simple, basic charger that uses the car’s communications system,” said Paul Pebbles, Global Vehicle Electrification Services Product Manager at OnStar. “At home, the utility can communicate with the car to delay charging when usage spikes. That’s much cheaper than installing a charging station that has built-in communications.”

The juncture of telematics and EVs will also include smartphones, which have already become a central technology in many connected vehicle architectures. Programmers are offering smartphone applications that make it simple for owners to communicate with their vehicles when they’re driving or when EVs are parked.

“Our mobile app for smartphones lets you see what range you have while you’re in the office so you can see whether you’ve got enough range to run errands on the way home,” said Stephanie Janzcak, EV infrastructure manager at Ford Motor Co. “It will also provide driving tips like adjusting the air-conditioner or not accelerating so fast so you can extend your range.”

When the vehicle is parked at home, these apps can help drivers extend range in their next outing by using home electricity instead of the onboard battery for certain functions. “The owner can set up climate control for their vehicle, when it is plugged in, to ensure that the passenger cabin is at a comfortable temperature when they begin their drive,” said Tom Taylor, Vice President of Engineering for Hughes Telematics. “The mobile app can...begin temperature control 30 minutes before an expected drive time.”

Smartphone apps also can help drivers avoid problems that could leave them undercharged. Others help drivers conserve energy while they’re driving in unfamiliar territory.

“There are already a number of programs that send you a message that alerts you if you forgot to plug your car in,” said Leo McCloskey, Airbiquity Marketing Vice President. “Once you get on the road, Ford’s Eco-Route helps you find a route that may avoid hills that are more of a drain on batteries than driving on a more level route.”

Some observers feel that smartphones may reduce the number of drivers who subscribe to telematics services that use an EV's built-in communications. Apps may let owners use their phones to communicate with utilities, eliminating the monthly fees for embedded telematics links.

“Telematics will play an important role for early adopters, but eventually people won’t want to pay an annual fee. We’re looking at smartphone apps to handle much of this communication,” said ECOtality Vice President Colin Read.

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