Monday, August 16, 2010

Open Contest Seeks Best Use of Elec. Car Batteries

Carnegie Mellon University researchers are turning to the public to find the best possible way to use electric cars’ batteries.

The college’s electric car program, ChargeCar, announced its “ChargeCarPrize” contest last week. The person who comes up with the best system for distributing energy from electric car batteries wins an electric car.

Assistant Professor of Robotics Illah Nourbaksh says eight “secret drivers” will have driving habits like distance and altitude recorded by a GPS system.

“Every month, the data that has been accumulated for the past month of driving gets tested against the best open algorithms that have been submitted to us so far on the website. And so we see for the past month, if any of these drivers were driving an electric car and they were using the algorithms that have been submitted, how efficient would they have been? How little energy would they have been able to use and still get a great commute done?”

Nourbaksh says combined with new supercapicitor technology developed by CMU, the best algorithm will allow electric car batteries to shrink. Since batteries are the most expensive part of the cars, that means prices will shrink as well.

“When they’re $45,000, they’re just something for the elite. If we can get that cost down so a new electric car is fifteen- or twenty-thousand dollars, then we’re talking about a much bigger demographic.”

Nourbaksh says the contest is slated to take up to 18 months, but it could finish early if “some genius” comes up with a great algorithm sooner than that. In the meantime, the algorithm that performs the best by the end of each month earns its author a $250 gift card.

Details on ChargeCarPrize can be found at ChargeCar's website.

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