GPS can be a very useful, if sometimes distracting, navigation aid while driving to your destination. I sometimes use the GPS system in my Prius to help me explore non-highway routes as well to where I’m going for a sort of backroads type experience. What if it could also be an aid to help electric vehicle drivers eek out more driving range? That’s the focus of a recent study in California.

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, which have done an amazing amount of green technology research in recent years, recently announced they’re developing a prototype “eco-routing” navigation system that could, under the right conditions, help drivers of vehicles like the Nissan Leaf increase their daily range by at least 10 percent. The system works by taking into account real-time traffic information, road type and grade and passenger and cargo weight to help develop a routing algorithm that finds the route requiring the least amount of energy for a trip.

Prototype eco navigation system installed in a passenger car – image via University of California, Riverside

Making use of a a nearly $95,000, one-year grant from the California Energy Commission, researchers are studying how the previously mentioned factors, as well as weather conditions, play a role in how electric vehicles consume energy. To do this, they will be collect energy consumption data, said the university, “when an electric vehicle is driven under a variety of real-world driving conditions, including different vehicle speeds, traffic congestion levels, road types, and road grades, with varying number of passengers.”

The data from this study will be turned into tables, which will be used to develop real-time energy consumption estimate models for the test electric vehicle, said researchers. These models will be the focus of the eco-routing algorithm, which in turn will be at the heart of their prototype GPS system design that will be further tested in an electric car.

As to why they’ve chosen the factors they have, researchers broke it down this way:

  • Traffic conditions: Stop-and-go movement in congested traffic wastes fuel. So, the vehicle energy consumption increases significantly under this traffic condition.
  • Road type: Driving patterns on different road types are different. For example, driving on highways often involves cruising at higher speeds. Driving on surface streets often involves more frequent stops due traffic signals, stop signs and more idling. These differences have significant impacts on vehicle energy consumption.
  • Road grade: Climbing a steep road grade requires higher power from the engine to overcome the added gravitational force. This increases vehicle energy consumption.
  • Weight: A vehicle carrying more weight requires more energy to run, thus impacting its energy consumption rate.
  • Weather conditions: Weather conditions have direct and indirect impact on energy consumption. For instance, headwind increases vehicle energy consumption as the vehicle needs additional power to combat the wind drag. And, using the heater or air condition during hot or cold weather also increases energy consumption.

“This is particularly useful given the limited range of electric vehicles,” said Guoyuan Wu, an assistant researcher at UCR’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology, and the principal investigator on the project, in a statement. “It should really help cut down on what has become known as range anxiety.”


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