Cars by Remote Control

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.




1 Comment

  • So if I’m at my Colorado moutain cabin where there is no cell phone service, I won’t be able to preheat the plug-in cars from some of these vendors because my fancy remote app won’t work???  Why wasn’t this obvious question addressed in the article?  Are we so enamored and high tech that we can no longer think straight?

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