Testing Electric Vehicles On the Edge

There’s a couple things I learned from spending all day Sunday at the REFUEL electric vehicle race and time trials in Laguna Seca, Calif.: there’s a certain subculture of people who are really into racing electric vehicles, wear sunscreen if you’re going to be in the sun all day, and most importantly, testing electric vehicles and motorcycles under extreme conditions and at high speeds will be an important way to help usher in breakthroughs and innovations.

The idea of using the racing EV as a platform for R&D was a theme I heard from the engineers and entrepreneurs who showed us their vehicles throughout the day’s event. Whether it was Tesla co-founder Ian Wright and his X1 racing prototype, the folks at OptaMotive and their E Rex (an EV based on their battle bot) or Dennis Palatov founder of racing design shop Palav Motorsport.

As this article from Edmunds puts it eloquently “For much of the 20th century, racing served as a fast-paced proving ground for new automotive technology.” Automakers can first roll-out, test, and refine next-generation technology and design ideas under top speeds and timed conditions, and the raceway can often times be the best place to learn information about the safety and handling of vehicles.

Now the raceway is being used to test out the latest electric vehicle technology, and the REFUEL event is just one of several I’ve seen advertised this year including the TTXGP Electric Motorcycle Grand Prix. Many of these events aren’t really even catered to regular ticket holders — the REFUEL event had very few spectators that I saw — and are mostly a way for home brew EV makers, students and entrepreneurs to connect and test out their tech.

The notions of racing and electric vehicles traditionally haven’t gone hand in hand. EVs have long been thought of as those slow-moving, boxy, neighborhood electric cars that closely resemble golf carts. But the idea behind Tesla — to use an electric sports car to help create demand for EVs among the masses — has brought more performance car enthusiasts into the electric car industry. And Tesla was an oft-mentioned topic and a point of inspiration for the entrepreneurs at the REFUEL event.

We’ll bring you individual profiles and video clips (via our show Green Overdrive) of the racers, designers and innovators at the event over the coming days and weeks.

For more research on EV check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

IT Opportunities in Electric Vehicle Management

Image courtesy of Wolftrouble’s photostream.

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