Electric vehicles need to be smarter than your average car. Their dependency on the electrical grid and the need to carefully manage the power going into and out of the batteries is prompting a revolution in vehicle information technology.
Existing communication and data networks (using IP) will enable vehicles to “smart charge,” delaying battery charging until favorable conditions on the grid (including the cost of energy) exist. According to a new GigaOm report, “IT and Networking Issues for the Electric Vehicle Market,” (subscription required) utilities alone will spend upwards of $800 million on IT to prepare the grid for vehicle charging.
Many of the pioneers in the PC and Internet industries will play a significant role in driving the innovation, along with some new players specializing in vehicle-grid communications. Last week, vehicle battery services company Better Place announced it had recruited both Microsoft and Intel to aid in the development of EV communications technology. Startup Coulomb Technologies is rolling out EV charging equipment loaded with software for upcoming vehicles including Daimler’s plug-in Smart.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, technologies and protocols developed to enable computers, mobile phones and other devices to interact online will be adapted to EV IT. Mobile phone networks, such as those run by AT&T and Sprint, will be utilized for wireless communications, according to the report.
Most of these standards for communications between vehicles and grid equipment, home-networking devices such as smart meters, and charging stations are either in the early stages of development or are yet to be written. This provides an opportunity for companies to get involved now.
Innovations for connecting onboard vehicle computers to electric cars, (like those announced by Audi), will be extended to other vehicles, upping the overall level of vehicle intelligence. Similarly, Ford will add EV-specific communications features to its SYNC platform as part of its larger plan for transportation IT.
The U.S. government is supporting IT development EVs by funding research as well as smart charging infrastructure. The House of Representatives this week passed a bill that would go further than the Obama administration’s stimulus funding, authorizing $2.9 billion over five years for advanced vehicle technologies, including information technology.
John Gartner is an analyst with Pike Research, editor in chief of MatterNetwork.com, and a member of the GigaOM Pro Analyst Network. His latest report, “IT and Networking Issues for the Electric Vehicle Market,” examines these issues in more detail.
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