There was a time when sophisticated driver assist systems were the realm of luxury cars. The reason is simple, really. The cost of any new tech innovation is high, and it’s easiest to bury this cost in higher end vehicles offered at a premium price. It was thus with many innovations we now take for granted in our cars like air bags and anti-lock braking. These days, the most desired driver assist and advanced safety systems are pretty much standard fare in most new models.
We were impressed years ago when Honda launched its ‘Safety for Everyone’ program and made its latest safety innovations standard fare on all its vehicles. The auto industry as a whole has followed suit, and now even the most sophisticated systems can be found on entry-level models, increasingly as standard equipment or as available options. While drivers of premium vehicles may still be the first to experience the latest new twist operating silently behind the scenes as they drive, you can be assured the technology will filter down to all models over time.
There are reasons for that because safety is always on the minds of new car buyers. The availability of systems that keep drivers and their families safe on the road, or at least as safe as possible, are highly desired. Automakers know this. Active and passive safety offer a competitive advantage in new car sales, right alongside other traditional touchstones like value, style, dependability, efficiency, and performance. If a new and highly-desired feature is introduced by one brand’s vehicles, there’s no doubt you will be seeing it offered in competitive models soon enough. There’s too much at stake for automakers not to emphasize safety, just as they emphasize electrification, efficiency, and environmental performance in their new model vehicles.
These days, technology is an active participant in our driving experience, constantly looking to warn us of unsafe conditions and offer alerts, and sometimes even initiate last-minute control to avoid an imminent collision. Their importance can’t be overstated. In the early years of driver assist systems, there were claims and assumptions regarding their promise for preventing potential collisions and saving lives. Now there is actual data to support this.
Recently, GM partnered with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute to study the real-world effect its driver assist, active safety, and advanced headlight features were having in preventing or lessening various types of crashes. The study involved data from some 3.7 million GM vehicles across 20 models, making use of police crash report databases from 10 states. Comparisons were made involving vehicles equipped with advanced active safety features and others without this functionality.
The results showed that driver assist systems can make a dramatic difference in eliminating or mitigating crashes. Automatic emergency braking with forward collision alert was shown to reduce rear-end striking crashes by 46 percent. Lane keep assist with lane departure warning reduced lane departure crashes by 20 percent, with lane change alert and side blind zone alert bringing a reduction of 26 percent in lane change crashes.
Even advanced lighting made a difference in driving safety. Here, high-intensity discharge headlights brought a 21 percent reduction in nighttime crashes involving pedestrians, bicyclists, or animals. In addition, advanced headlight systems that automatically turn high beams on or off in response to surrounding conditions delivered a 35 percent reduction. When combined, the two lighting systems resulted in a 49 percent crash reduction.
Clearly, automobiles have become more complex over time. In their early years, an automobile’s electrical system was limited to fundamental functions like a starter, generator, headlights and taillights, instrumentation, and an audio system. Over the years this grew more extensive, including everything from navigation, electric-assist steering and braking, electronic transmission control, electronic ignition, anti-lock braking, an array of airbags, and advanced emissions controls.
Today’s more sophisticated automobile integrates all this and more, from active safety assist systems and real-time traffic navigation to semi-autonomous driving, all enabled by on-board computers. Industry experts point out that today’s vehicles are often equipped with hundreds of controllers and sensors, and dozens of on-board computers (electronic control units, or ECUs), generating tens of gigabytes of data every hour. It’s expected that the coming generation of fully autonomous vehicles could generate upwards of 30 terabytes every day.
Supporting the electronics that process, analyze, and activate, the array of cameras, radar, and LIDAR sensors strategically and discretely positioned around a connected car ‘see’ vehicles, objects, and people ahead, around, and behind. These feed information to on-board systems that enable everything from the view seen in a back-up camera to determining the speed of a car in front of you, allowing adaptive cruise control to adjust your speed to avoid overtaking the vehicle ahead.
These sensors are constantly evolving and improving, a necessity as we head toward fully-autonomous driving. While LIDAR continues to be a favored system by automakers, other innovations are in the works. One example is next-generation radar systems. Until now, vehicle radar has been limited to capturing just speed and direction, which is one of the reasons why vehicles use multiple sensor types for their driver assist and semi-autonomous driving features. Now, the newest long-range radar designs will determine an object’s speed, range, direction, and elevation, even at higher speeds and under challenging lighting or weather conditions.
Evolution is a hallmark of life, and it seems, of driving. Even as our cars are getting more complex in every sense as they adapt to modern life, they are also getting smarter…and safer. All that technology is delivering much more than the comfort, performance, entertainment, and driving pleasure we’ve come to expect from modern vehicles over time. We now benefit from a more confident driving experience and enhanced safety on the road as well, with technologies like those described below serving as our copilot.
ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL: As a stand-alone system or as part of semi-autonomous driving systems, ACC works like conventional cruise control with the addition of sensing technology that determines the speed and distance of the car ahead. It modifies your set cruise speed to avoid overtaking that vehicle. Many systems can bring your vehicle to a full stop if needed. Some advanced systems even reference map data to anticipate upcoming curves, roundabouts, toll booths, and more, then automatically reduce speed accordingly.
AUTOMATIC EMERGENCY BRAKING: Coupled with advance warning of unsafe closing speed or other immediate hazards, this system will automatically apply emergency braking to help avoid or mitigate a collision. Rear and pedestrian AEB is also offered as part of this system.
AUTONOMOUS DRIVING: Sometimes confused with fully ‘self-driving’ capabilities not yet here or approved, to degrees, today’s semi-autonomous systems can help keep a vehicle centered in its lane, pace a vehicle ahead at a safe distance, and often bring your vehicle to a full stop in gridlocked traffic, then resume driving when traffic in your lane is moving again. Some systems identify the pressure of hands on the steering wheel to allow continuing use of a semi-autonomous driving system, while others, like Cadillac, use a strategically-mounted camera that monitors a driver to confirm they are paying attention to the road ahead.
BLIND SPOT MONITORING: This system alerts a driver of vehicles in its blind spots to increase safety when changing lanes, passing, or being passed.
FORWARD COLLISION WARNING: Audible and visual warnings are provided to alert a driver of the potential of a forward collision. Some systems also provide brake pulsing as a further warning to gain a driver’s immediate attention.
HEAD-UP DISPLAY: A HUD projects driving information projected ahead of a driver’s view, sometimes as simple as mph but often providing info on various driver assist functions including turn-by-turn navigation.
LANE DEPARTURE WARNING: This system provides audible and visual warnings if your vehicle strays outside of its lane when a turn signal is not activated.
LANE KEEP ASSIST: Taking over after a lane departure warning, this function provides varying degrees of steering input to help maintain lane position.
NIGHT VISION: Using infrared sensing technology, night vision displays an enhanced view of the road ahead that helps identify pedestrians, animals, or other hazards that may be beyond the view of a car’s headlights.
PARK ASSIST: This system enables a driver to select automated parallel, and sometimes perpendicular, parking functionality. It uses sensors to identify an open parking space of suitable size and the position of parked vehicles, then controls steering angle to automatically guide your vehicle into the space. Many systems require a driver to control braking, acceleration, and gear position, while others handle all functions automatically.
REAL-TIME TRAFFIC: Navigation systems that integrate real-time traffic information are valuable in saving time, fuel, and maximizing driving range with their ability to reroute around traffic jams and construction projects.
REAR BACK-UP CAMERA: Now found on a wide range of vehicles, a view to the rear is shown in a dashboard display or rear-view mirror when a driver shifts into reverse, often including grid lines depicting a driver’s angle of approach and relative distance from nearby vehicles or objects. Audible warnings are provided when objects are too close or a potential collision with an object, vehicle, or pedestrian is detected.
REAR PARK ASSIST: At low speed while in reverse, sensors detect objects and a potential collision, providing a warning brake pulse and then bringing your vehicle to a stop.
SURROUND VIEW CAMERA: This technology uses multiple cameras strategically positioned on a vehicle to provide a ‘birds’-eye’ perspective of the vehicle and its immediate surroundings.
It’s well understood that Ford’s EcoBoost engines combine direct injection, variable valve timing, and turbocharging to achieve impressive power and high efficiency. While these advanced engines deliver the acceleration and high fuel economy desired in mainstream models, EcoBoost engines also power the automaker’s performance-oriented models like the Mustang and Fiesta ST. As die-hard enthusiasts always wonder…is there a way to eke even more performance from my car?
And the answer is ‘yes,’ with new hand-held programmers from Ford that adjust a multitude of engine parameters. Tuners often go the traditional route of replacing original equipment with aftermarket parts like performance camshafts, exhaust and intake manifolds, high-flow fueling systems, and even superchargers, sometimes with unwanted trade-offs in efficiency, durability, or comfort.
Ford points out that in an age of computer-controlled engines, a better answer is performance mods using Ford Racing’s programming handset. The $595 ProCal programmer for the Focus ST 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and Fiesta ST 1.6-liter EcoBoost plugs into the car’s diagnostic link connector port, enabling performance tweaks to everything from throttle response characteristics and idle speed to turbo wastegate control, fuel curves, and spark timing.
In the hands of engine tuning experts, tweaking with the ProCal can bring impressive gains in horsepower and torque output. The Focus ST can gain up to a 90 lb-ft torque increase while maintaining the Ford-backed limited warranty. Custom engine calibrations for the all-new Mustang 2.3-liter EcoBoost are being developed by Ford Racing with a product expected by the end of 2015.
Illuminating the road ahead is a crucial element in driving. It’s also one that has long benefitted from technological innovation. To this end, Audi celebrates the evolution of automotive lighting with its Sport quattro laserlight concept car. The high performance, two-door, Plasma Red coupe harkens back to the iconic 1983 Sport quattro even as it’s abundant advanced technology and design cues point to the future.
The laserlight concept is named for its future lighting technologies. Two low-profile trapezoidal elements are visible within the headlights. An outer one generates low beam light using matrix LEDs and an aperture mask, while an inner element produces laser light for the high-beam.
Laser diodes are significantly smaller than LED diodes, only a few microns in diameter. They can illuminate the road for a distance of nearly 1,640 feet, approximately twice the lighting range with three times the luminosity of LED high beam lights. This technology is finding use in the 2014 R18 e-tron quattro for track duty.
Motivating the laserlight concept is a 4.0-liter, bi-turbo V-8 TSFI (turbo stratified fuel injection) engine and a disc-shaped electric motor located between the engine and transmission. The V-8 produces 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet torque, with the electric motor contributing an additional 148 horsepower and 295 pound-feet torque. A modified eight-speed Tiptronic transmission is mated to the quattro drivetrain with a sport differential at the rear axle.
Electrical energy is stored in a 14.1 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, sufficient for 31 miles of all-electric driving. When the V-8 and electric motor are working together, the Audi Sport quattro laserlight concept can accelerates from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds. Top speed is 189 mph. This impressive performance comes with an equally impressive 94 US mpg fuel economy. This is achieved in part through its electric plug-in operation in addition to a cylinder on demand system that deactivates four cylinders of the V-8 under partial load. Also helping is a start-stop system and several levels of regen braking to enhance driving dynamics.
Drivers can switch between three different modes. In EV mode, just the electric motor operates with sufficient high torque power, even outside the city. The active accelerator pedal indicates the transition by a change in pedal resistance so a driver can intentionally influence the mode selection. The Hybrid mode provides optimal interplay between the V-8 and the electric motor for best fuel-savings, and additionally incorporates environmental and route data. A driver can choose the Hold and Charge modes to ensure sufficient electrical energy is available for electric-only driving at their destination. There are different levels of regenerative braking to enhance the driving experience.
The laserlight’s multifunction sport steering wheel has buttons to control the hybrid drive, start-stop function, vehicle handling system, and the car’s virtual cockpit. Key information is shown on the large Audi TFT display in high-resolution 3D graphics. A cutting-edge Nvidia Tegra 30 processor handles the graphics.
Nearly all functions can be controlled from the further-developed MMI mounted on the center console. Its large rotary pushbutton, which also serves as a touchpad, can be pushed in four directions. It’s surrounded on three sides by four buttons that control the main menu, submenus, options, and a back function. The intuitive layout is similar to a smart phone with all frequently used functions accessed lightning fast.
Lightweight design plays a major role in the Audi laserlight concept’s dynamic performance. A combination of ultra high-strength steel sheet and structural elements of cast aluminum is used in the occupant cell. The doors and fenders are made of aluminum, with the roof, engine hood, and rear hatch and other components made of carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP). Thus, the concept weighs 4,079 pounds including the weight of the large battery pack.
The Department of Transportation’s year-long Safety Pilot ‘model deployment’ in Ann Arbor, Michigan is over but the learning curve has just begun. Representing the largest-ever road test of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) technology with nearly 3,000 vehicles, the demonstration explored V2V’s many benefits in real-world situations as vehicles communicated with one another, exchanging real-time information like speed and GPS-derived location. While the main benefit is accident avoidance, the technology is also ‘green’ since it can reduce traffic congestion and save fuel.
This large scale demonstration was successful in showing interoperability of V2V technology among products from different vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. Thus, from this and years of DOT testing of V2V technologies, DOT and NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) say they will begin taking steps to encourage V2V communication technology in future light vehicles.
With V2V, vehicles share basic safety data 10 times a second. DOT research indicates that safety applications using V2V technology can address a large majority of crashes involving two or more vehicles. With safety data such as speed and location from nearby vehicles, vehicles can identify risks and provide drivers with warnings to avoid rear-end, lane change, and intersection crashes
Vehicle-to-vehicle communications can provide 360-degree situational awareness to avoid crash situations. For example, those nagging questions – is it safe to pass on a two-lane road, make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic, or are vehicles approaching a blind intersection – are answered for you, consistently and automatically. In these situations, V2V communications can warn of potential threats hundreds of yards from other vehicles that cannot be seen, often when on-board sensors alone cannot detect the threat. Early indications show real potential to avoid 70 to 80 percent of crashes involving unimpaired drivers.
One challenge comes from the fact that V2V technology uses the 5.9-GHz frequency band also used by Wi-Fi devices. This could potentially cause interference and affect the integrity of V2V safety communications. That’s an important consideration since communication delays of even thousandths of a single second matter when dealing with auto and highway safety. Experts are working with the Wi-Fi industry to see how this spectrum can be safely shared.
This current pronouncement doesn't address autonomous cars or application in large vehicles like trucks and buses. The demonstration didn't include any V2V interaction with vehicle controls but rather only warnings to prevent collisions, not involving robotically operated systems like automatic braking or steering as part of an anti-collision strategy. That said, NHTSA is also considering future safety technologies that rely on on-board sensors. Those technologies are eventually expected to blend with V2V technology.
For those concerned with privacy, V2V technology does not involve exchanging or recording personal information or tracking vehicles. The information sent between vehicles does not identify a specific vehicle, just basic safety data. The contemplated system also contains several layers of security and privacy protection.
NHTSA will now begin working on proposed regulatory actions that would require V2V devices in new vehicles. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage development of V2V technology and pave the way for market penetration of V2V tech that will represent the next generation of life-saving achievements, enhancing the well-documented protection already seen with safety belts and air bags.
The 2014 Audi A8 L TDI is a joy to drive, as one would expect in a vehicle offering just about everything one could want in a car. Audi’s flagship A8 L TDI clean diesel sedan provides superb style, a great driving experience, creature comforts galore, and did we mention great fuel economy?
This aluminum-bodied executive sedan is powered by a 3.0 liter turbocharged V-6 clean diesel engine that offers 240 hp and 406 lb-ft torque that launches from 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds, while delivering an EPA estimated 36 highway mpg. Once you get beyond the superb driving experience – which admittedly can be pretty captivating – there’s always the incredible world of advanced electronics afforded A8 drivers.
As Audi's sophisticated Audi connect system shows, the evolution of vehicles is seeing them morphing from just modes of transportation into mobile electronic devices. Drivers and passengers stay connected to the Internet and to friends and family while on the road, plus increasingly to highway infrastructure. Audi is one of the leaders in this communications evolution and the first auto manufacturer to offer Wi-Fi connectivity, beginning with the European debut of Audi connect in 2009 and then introduction in the U.S. two years later.
Audi connect provides broadband connectivity for up to eight onboard devices so passengers can surf the web and send e-mails. Google Earth makes it easier to navigate to a destination. The myAudi Destination feature allows users to log on to Google Earth from virtually any location in the U.S. and download up to 50 destinations. Google Voice Local Search provides detailed information about destinations. Real-time Sirius XM Traffic information available via enhancements to the Audi MMI Navigation Plus system could save time and fuel. Owners with Audi connect-capable vehicles can obtain real-time localized news, weather, and fuel prices.
How much does it cost to stay connected? Audi of America and T-Mobile will provide connectivity for the Audi connect infotainment and navigation system for as little as $15 per month, much less than competitors’ plans. New and existing owners of vehicles equipped with Audi connect can pay $450 to receive full data services over 30 months, or $15 per month. A month-to-month plan costs $30 per month. Audi’s goal is one million connected Audi vehicles globally by 2015.
Audi is the first to offer INRIX Park worldwide. This could save fuel and time since it provides continuously updated pricing, hours, and availability for participating off-street parking locations. Available to all Audi connect subscribers at no additional cost, it provides turn-by-turn directions to entrances of over 18,000 participating parking locations in the U.S. and 42,000 in Europe, with these numbers continuing to grow. Users can find available parking closest to a destination as well as compare by distance or price.
The need for speed is always important. Audi connect's 3G mobile communications standard currently provides transfer rates of up to 28.8 megabits per second (Mbit/s). However, Audi is moving to the fourth generation 4G LTE mobile standard that supports data rates of up to 150 MBit/s downstream and considerably faster response times. LTE technology enables the exchange of large quantities of data such as music and movies in HD quality. The onboard WLAN hotspot allows passengers to do different things on different mobile terminal devices at the same time. For example, one passenger can participate in a video conference while another watches a video.
In the future, Audi connect will provide a platform for Car-to-X communication that will make driving safer, more relaxed, and more economical. Networked vehicles can alert one another to hazards such as icy roads or traffic at intersections. Communication with traffic lights enables vehicles to anticipate green lights for uninterrupted driving. Car-to-X communication offers great potential for disseminating up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions with great accuracy that will take Audi connect to the next level.
Virtually every PEV manufacturer has developed apps for mobile devices allowing remote access for monitoring charge status, initiating charging, pre-heating and pre-cooling interiors, locating charging stations, and much more.
General Motors is basing its remote PEV access on the well-established OnStar system. In one example, Chevy Volt owners can manage vehicle charging, including the option to charge during off-peak hours through the OnStar RemoteLink Mobile App.
The 2014 Chevy Spark EV will also come with the Spark EV Waypoint tab integrated into the RemoteLink app. The aim is to help reduce the range anxiety experienced by some battery electric vehicle drivers.
When a destination is selected, the app will determine whether the destination is within the range of a single charge based on the distance and battery state-of-charge. If not, the app will plot a waypoint route with recommended charging stations along the route.
In some cases the trip may not be possible because the destination is beyond the vehicle’s range and no waypoint charging stations are available along the route. The app tells a driver how long the trip will take including charging time at each waypoint. In addition to mobile devices, waypoint routing will be available on GM Owner Center, allowing directions to be sent online to a vehicle.
The next step is the Park-Tap-Charge app that’s currently in prototype stage. Here, when EV drivers tap their smartphone against a charging station, the device will automatically show payment options that, once accepted, will initiate charging.
Prior to accepting payment, the app will show the hourly rate of charging, estimated time for a full charge, and estimated full-charge cost. The app uses Near Field Communication technology for contactless payment that’s already used in smartphones.
Automotive supplier Visteon is among many companies that clearly understand the importance of advanced electronics in future automobiles. The firm recently illustrated this with its e-Bee concept car that envisions mobility in the year 2020.
The eBee concept aims to explore new and alternative ways of using a vehicle from private ownership to car sharing and short-term rentals. It’s set up to take advantage of diverse powertrains including electric and hybrid power, using such innovations as an HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) system integrating smart energy technology to conserve energy. The system includes an electric compressor, interior pre-conditioning to conserve on-board battery power, and a cooled shopping box in the trunk.
The car’s sustainably-designed interior uses bio-based resin, hybrid natural fiber, and recyclable expanded polypropylene materials that address environmental performance and reduce weight.
The real story of the e-Bee is its advanced electronics…and there’s loads of it on board. Its driver interface includes a main display for journey information with two smaller touch screens on either side of the steering wheel, the latter providing vehicle controls and interaction with social connections. A projected head-down display provides driving information. Images from a 180-degree rear-view camera are shown in lieu of a rear view mirror.
Each occupant has a personal headrest-mounted audio system, door-mounted wireless charging bays for their electronics, and door-mounted control modules to adjust individual climate zones. User preferences stored in the Cloud set a driver’s preferences upon entry, defining the look and layout of the car’s displays and interior colors.
Clip-on modules like cup holders, cameras, and wireless charging devices – known as 'physical apps' – can be added by users to fit their needs and style sensibilities as desired.
When it comes to on-board fuel economy computers that help you achieve the best mpg, automakers aren’t the only ones in this game. There’s a healthy aftermarket for this as well.
In fact, when testing vehicles, we often use an aftermarket gauge to more accurately monitor fuel economy. Our favorite is the ScanGauge II from Linear Logic (www.scangauge.com). This easy-to-use device simply plugs into a car’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBDII) port on 1996 and newer models and pulls information directly from the vehicle’s computer. The OBDII port is usually located behind the dash on the driver’s side. It’s plug-and-play with just a single connection needed. You can mount the gauge panel anywhere it’s easy to see.
Fuel economy isn’t the only function of the ScanGauge II. It also reads diagnostic codes so you can troubleshoot problems with your vehicle before going in for service. If you have the skills you can also reset the code and fix the problem yourself. The gauge can display up to four functions at once. We generally set ours for instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, throttle position, and mph.
Throttle position is a great measurement that shares how far the throttle is open, with the lower the better for fuel efficiency. There are a total of 15 gauge functions to choose from and you can cycle through them by simply pressing one of the device’s four white buttons. Enter the vehicle engine size, fuel type, and gas tank size and the ScanGauge II becomes a trip computer with valuable information like distance to empty.
Linear Logic has also added a performance monitor function that allows you to test acceleration and power output. A smaller unit called the ScanGauge-e is also offered. It doesn’t have some of the functions of the ScanGauge II, but does include a mpg bar graph and calculates CO2 tailpipe emissions.
PLX Devices (www.plxkiwi.com) offers an even smaller solution called the Kiwi MPG that also plugs into the OBDII port. A more advanced design, simply called Kiwi, upgrades to a small color LCD display with graphic information. Taking the concept a step further, PLX Devices also has wireless transmitters that plug into the OBDII port and allow you to use smart phone apps to monitor, graph, and log information pulled from the car’s computer. On iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch Apple platforms, the connection is Wi-Fi. On Droid devices the wireless connection is through Bluetooth.
High-tech apps enable smart phones to find your car in a parking lot, remotely start the engine, and control charging your EV. There’s good reason for the push toward integrating smartphone-based remote control with electric vehicles and this trend should only accelerate.
Remote control is a vital function for plug-in electric vehicles because of the need to optimize battery performance and charging, and thus maximize driving range. Drivers need to know how far they can travel and also be able to readily identify the locations of charging stations to help alleviate ‘range anxiety,’ a natural feeling when a vehicle's sole power source is the battery and recharging can take hours. Electric vehicles also have an abundance of electronics easily adapted to remote control. Plus, remote control is steadily moving from key fobs to apps for smartphones and computers.
Chevrolet and OnStar introduced the auto industry’s first working smartphone app for an electric vehicle in early 2010. Since then it’s been a blur of activity on the part of plug-in vehicle manufacturers and their technology partners to bring advanced remote control and monitoring for electric vehicles. The OnStar/Volt system captured the imagination by providing drivers a real-time data connection for remotely monitoring and controlling functions from setting charge time to unlocking the doors, and much more.
OnStar’s RemoteLink mobile app has continued to expand and evolve, with features in its current connected research vehicle collaboration with Verizon demonstrating the ability to find and reserve charging locations, manage Volt information and vehicle diagnostics, and access streaming content from the cloud enabled by the Verizon 4G LTE network. While some applications in the Volt research vehicle are only conceptual at this point, they demonstrate future opportunities that OnStar ATOMS cloud capabilities can provide using broadband accessibility.
Many remote systems are now out there. The Ford Focus Electric, for example, comes with the MyFord Mobile smartphone app for the BlackBerry, Android, and iPhone. With it, drivers can keep tabs on their vehicle and even control some of its functions from virtually anywhere. MyFord Mobile works via a smartphone app or secure website to allow Focus owners to remotely monitor and control battery charge levels, plan single- or multiple-stop trips, locate charging stations, pre-heat or pre-cool the car, and perform other convenient electric vehicle-specific tasks.
Importantly, the app allows owners to reduce their electric utility costs by taking advantage of off-peak or reduced electricity rates without a complicated set-up process It also helps Focus Electric owners make smart-trip planning decisions via MapQuest, which has the largest database of charging stations.
Similar to a mobile phone, the built-in GPRS radio in Nissan’s LEAF CARWINGS System is connected any time the car is within range of a cell tower. This enables a smartphone or computer to monitor a LEAF's range, remotely start and stop charging, and set climate control systems to pre-heat or pre-cool the car while charging. The latter is important so pre-heating and cooling to precondition a car’s interior to comfortable temperatures is done with electricity from the grid rather than the battery.
CARWINGS updates the navigation system with locations of charging stations near the LEAF’s current location. The system tracks and compiles statistics about distance traveled and energy consumption, plus it produces daily, monthly, and annual reports displayed on the car’s digital screen. The on-board, remote-controlled timer can be pre-programmed to recharge batteries at a set time to take advantage of off-peak rates. CARWINGS even alerts owners when they forget to plug in their LEAF.
To keep the cost of the all-electric Mitsubishi i as reasonable as possible, a less sophisticated telematics system is used. This includes more spartan instrumentation consisting of a battery state-of-charge meter, gear indicator, speedometer, eco/regen indicator, and odometer. A key fob remote allows a driver to communicate with the vehicle to pre-heat or pre-cool the interior as well as control the charging process. While wireless, the remote is not connected to the Internet so it cannot be used with a smartphone.
In 2013, BMW plans to market its i3, a battery electric vehicle aimed primarily for urban duty, and its i8, a plug-in electric sports car with both an electric motor and small turbocharged gasoline engine. Like other plug-ins, i3 and i8 drivers will be able to use a smartphone to check the battery's charge status and remaining time to full charge. Other accessible information includes available range on current state-of-charge or on a fully charged battery pack. A driver could potentially select the type of electricity used, ranging from the greenest to the cheapest.
An interesting variation on the available range calculation is that navigation destinations provided by Google Local Search can be sent to the vehicle, thus generating a map ‘spidergram’ showing destinations reachable with current battery charge. The nearest charging stations, not currently occupied, are also displayed and addresses can be loaded into the navigation system.