From the 19th Century Electric Car to an Internet of Electric Vehicles

I am writing this article from Dallas in Texas, a state that I assumed would have the lowest stats with respect to electric vehicle infrastructure and potential demand because of my preconceptions of JR Ewing and crude oil production there. In fact, Texas is the state with the second highest number of public charging points in the US (1600 of them in fact), and the charmingly-named Union of Concerned Scientists recently listed Texas as being one of the top states for electric vehicle efficiency.

You may also be surprised to hear that Ireland now has over 1200 public charge points between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or one for every 5333 people. That’s actually pretty high, because the top state in the US in terms of electric vehicle infrastructure, California, has one charge point for about every 7500 people (Texas has one for every 16500 people).

Electric vehicles themselves – EVs, ecars, call them what you will – have come a long way since their origins in the 19th century.

The first practical electric car (with a rechargeable battery) was built in 1884 by England’s Thomas Parker, although early electric vehicles were made in the 1830s by the American Thomas Davenport and Scotland’s Robert Anderson. Parker’s electric car is shown on the right.

130 years after Parker’s car, I’ve been fortunate enough to become one of the ESB ecar ambassadors for the Great Electric Drive of 2014, and even better, to drive one of the most technologically-advanced electric cars out there, the BMW i3.

It’s so advanced that from here in Texas I can load up a “BMW i Remote” app on my phone to see where it is currently located, check its state of charge, and even remotely turn on the air conditioning when I touch down in Shannon Airport. I can also send it a destination from my laptop, which will instantly appear in the navigation system. It won’t drive me there just yet, but you can use your imagination…

You may have heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything from your home thermostat to your fridge can potentially be connected to the Internet, allowing you to find out more about what’s going on at home when you’re in work (or vice versa), but also allowing you to control things remotely and in a smart, automated fashion – i.e. sensing plus actuation.

We’re now seeing an Internet of Vehicles (IoV), or even an Internet of Electric Vehicles, where you don’t need to worry about returning to your car prematurely if you’ve plugged it in to charge, because you can now check and see how it’s going from the comfort of your own smartphone. Or if you’re worried that you’ve left the doors open, you can check the locked status and even remotely lock them if they are indeed open.

The i3 basically has a mobile data connection built into the car – making it part of this Internet of Vehicles. That same connection also makes it possible for rescue services to be dispatched to your GPS location if an accident occurs and an airbag deploys, or if you manually pull an SOS switch above the rear-view mirror. Real-time traffic information is displayed via a red/yellow/green (slow-moving/medium/fast) line beside the road on the navigation system, using data obtained from the mobile network, smartphone apps, vehicle fleets and police reports.

Based on the current state of charge, the smartphone app can also show you the range you can drive the ecar in all directions, using its current location and the roads nearby. It is fun showing people how I can monitor (and control) the i3 through the app – even from a different continent – but many of the questions I get asked about ecars are much more practical, and I’ll cover some of these in my next entry.

For now, I’ll just say that it’s fascinating as an electronic engineer to observe such a convergence of technologies in these new ecars: high-voltage batteries, mobile devices, internet connectivity, regenerative braking, remote control apps, multimedia storage, voice recognition, fast charging, touch-sensitive input mechanisms, sensor information systems, and more.

It’s an exciting time to edrive.

 

Follow @myelectricdrive on Twitter.

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