If you’re a fan of energy-efficient automotive innovation, 2010 has been a huge year. Just a few of the highlights to support this statement include: the introduction of the Nissan Leaf; the launch of the Chevy Volt; Honda’s unveiling of its Fit EV and plug-in hybrid concepts; and the partnership between Tesla and Toyota to create the electric RAV4 with a reported range of 300 miles to the charge. You can read more about all these innovations on our Captain Hybrid blog.
Most of the attention around these introductions and announcements has centered on the batteries, their charging requirements, and the potential range they give their respective vehicles between charges. While battery technology will of course remain the central theme around which the evolving development of electric vehicles will concentrate, more and more attention is being paid to the systems and infrastructure that will need to be created to support the practical use of electric vehicles. And that’s where things get really interesting for systems designers of all types — especially those involved with automation.
One of the more high-profile examples of the electric car infrastructure I’m referring to is the battery-switch approach promulgated by Better Place — the organization launched by Shai Agassi to “deliver services to enable confident adoption and use of electric vehicles (EVs) … by building and operating the infrastructure and systems to optimize energy access and use.” The idea behind the battery-switch idea is that when EV users are seeking to drive for an extended range (farther than they can possibly go between charges), instead of stopping to recharge, they would instead visit a battery switch station and swap out their old battery for a new one. The plan is for the battery switch to be able to take place in a minute or less.
The first battery switch location in Tokyo was developed by Better Place for Nihon Kotsu, Tokyo’s largest taxi operator. This location opened this year and was extended through the end of the year after its first 90-day test period proved successful. According to a report by Edmunds, the Tokyo test period was extended by Better Place to gain further insights into the battery performance and durability of the switch station itself. The information gathered from this extended test will be key to the commercial launch of Better Place switching stations in Israel and Denmark in 2011. Initial data reports from the Tokyo taxi test showed that drivers went through the switch station 2,122 times and that the average switch time took 59.1 seconds.
When you stop to think about the electronic and mechanical systems integration required to create, deploy and evolve such switching systems, the EV arena could prove to be one of the largest drivers of multi-discipline engineering seen in decades.
But battery switching is just one of the energy infrastructure engineering challenges that Better Place is tackling. It’s also launching charging spots for quick charges and in-car software for communication between cars and charging/switching stations.
As you would expect, Better Place is not nearly alone in its push to make EVs a more common transportation platform. Industrial players such as Siemens are also getting into the electric car business.
Initially focused on the EV electric drive train (e.g., electric motors, inverters and onboard charging), Siemens is leveraging its newly launched Inside Electric Cars division to work with a variety of customers and technology partners. More specifically, Siemens is looking to develop better EV motors using a single-speed gearbox as well as exploring the development of multi-motor concepts (where more than one motor is used on the drive train).
Read more about the launch of Siemens’ Inside Electric Cars division.
As momentous as 2010 was on the EV product launch front, 2011 may prove to be the tipping point for related systems design engineering.