Computer engineers develop smart phone app to combat electric car anxiety

A team of students from Electrical and Computer engineering have found a way to take the anxiety out of knowing when and where to charge your electric vehicle by using your smart phone.

“That anxiety is very real,” said Khaja Shazzad a PhD student in associate professor Kemal Tepe’s Wireless Communication and Information Processing Research Lab (WiCIP), located in the new Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Shazzad helped lead a team of students who developed a smart phone application that blends the device owner’s personal calendar with GPS technology and monitoring of the vehicle’s battery to ensure that an electric vehicle motorist is never left stranded with a dead car.

Bill Cassidy, a second year master’s student in the lab, said electric vehicle ownership can be fraught with anxiety because range of those vehicles is still comparatively low, there are very few charging locations and it can take up to four hours to fully charge an electric car.

Their new application, which he described as an “information fusion,” eliminates that anxiety by providing the owner with real time data about their car. Providing the user has updated their calendar with all the locations they’ll be on any given day, the application will alert them with information about how much charge their travelling for that day will require. 

The phone can monitor how much charge is left on the battery and based on information from its manufacturer, the phone will alert the owner about how much driving range is left on it.  And using GPS technology, it can locate the nearest charging stations and even tell the owner how busy they are, how long they’ll have to wait to charge it and how much they can expect to pay.

The application is web-kit based so it can run in any browser and on most devices including Blackberry, iPhone and Android. The group has already talked with several people about the possibility of commercializing it.

Syed Sami, another masters student from the team, developed a computer simulation to test the application in a virtual “game” environment.

“The benefit of the simulator is that we didn’t need a real electric vehicle in order to test the app,” he said.

Their application captured first place at the 2011 Kamiel Gabriel Student Competition held earlier this month in Ajax by the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance, an academic- industry partnership for smart grid and green energy technologies. They competed against teams from Ryerson, Queen’s, Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

The group also has plans to work with Narayan Kar, another associate professor and fellow researcher from the same department, to test the app on a hybrid-electric vehicle in his CHARGE lab.

Watch a student-produced video about the application.