Rather than simply working to approximate the performance of a regular gas-powered vehicle with an electric one, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute had a better idea: why not gather information about the way people actually drive, and build an electric car that uses energy more efficiently than a gas-powered car?
The Institute’s ChargeCar Project is built around a vehicle architecture called smart power management, which uses artificial intelligence to manage the power flow between conventional electric car batteries and a device called a supercapacitor. Typically used to start locomotives, tanks and diesel trucks, supercapacitors are electrochemical capacitors that can save wear and tear on batteries. By storing actual information about a given person’s actual commute, the next-generation electric car envisioned by the Institute will save commuters money while extending the life of their electric car batteries, which it claims are the single biggest cost associated with electric car ownership.
The ChargeCar Project has created a national clearinghouse for commuter data where individuals are encouraged to help “crowd-source the commute” by uploading stored commuter data from their GPS systems. It has also recently converted a Scion xB as a test bed for developing smart power management techniques, measuring battery lifetimes and refine conversion techniques.