RFID Revolutionizes the Electric Vehicle Industry

Posted by Ken Lynch on Wed, Mar 07, 2012 @ 03:43 PM

Tags: RFID, Automobile Production, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access, Vehicle Tracking

Electric Vehicle ChargingRemote car starters. Curtain side airbags. Cars that you can talk to and that talk back. Those luxuries are old news these days, having made their way into almost every car on the road.

Wireless cars that are connected to databases of information as well as connected to each other are being reported on a lot in the media today. It won’t be long before those cars are on the road telling their drivers where they can go for Sushi, and if they have a new email which can be displayed on the dash for safe viewing.

Electric cars were once thought of as futuristic, but these too have become a reality. Down the road (pun intended!), we should expect to be surrounded by them. Right now they are mostly compact and well suited for driving and parking in space-constrained metro areas. But because of the advantages they afford us, we see that industry grow, and grow successfully in part, with the help of RFID.

First let’s take a step back and review what RFID has done for the automotive industry as a whole.

Location of Cars

How many times have you been so ready for a vacation, eagerly taking the keys from the rental car agent, only to spend 30 minutes waking around a hot parking lot with your family and suitcases because you can’t find your car? We’ve seen how RFID with GPS makes this practice a lot more convenient for the customer and far more efficient for the rental agency. The benefits are clear: visibility of all cars in the lot; immediate availability of cars as they are needed; improved inventory management so popular cars are on-hand more often; and reduction of paperwork and manual record keeping. A no brainer!

Parking Garage Access

The type of RFID implementation to locate cars also works for fleet management and parking garage access and payment. Long-range identification in combination with high-speed RFID is the best option for hands-free identification of cars as they enter and exit a parking facility. Parking facilities and parking garages at airports feel the pressure to find ways to grow revenue. RFID helps achieve that goal by bringing increased efficiency, security and convenience, while minimizing environmental impact. Pretty soon we won’t need to remember to bring our parking tickets with us to pay the cashier before we leave a garage, which is obviously not very convenient.

Anti-theft

We’re not talking about LoJack, although that does use radio frequency for location tracking. We’re referring to a use case where European manufacturers used RFID as “car immobilizers.” The keys are equipped with an RFID tag, and an interrogator installed in the steering column. In order to start the vehicle, the reader validates the unique identification number from the RFID-enabled key. A duplicate key would not be able to start the car because it wouldn’t be able to pass the reader’s verification without the tag.

Recharging Stations

Now, getting back to the electric car. The advent of this development has brought about another automotive market need that RFID is helping to serve - wireless charging stations.

EV-Charge America’s approach to electric vehicle charging stations uses a wireless, networked, meshed-LAN array of subscription-based stations that can be located anywhere with Google Maps, OnStar, hand-held devices and smartphones. Once at an EV Charging Station, drivers can unlock it, activate it and start the flow of electricity by waving their RFID-enabled key ring in front of the unit's reader.

To charge an EV at IKEA San Diego, drivers swipe their RFID-enabled Blink InCard, plug the charger into the EV, and then shop at their leisure in the IKEA store while the vehicle is charging.

Coulomb Smartlet charging stations will eventually let drivers use an RFID-enabled credit or debit card to pay for their electricity.  Subscribers are issued cards equipped with a high-frequency passive RFID tags so they can simply hold their card up to an RFID interrogator embedded in the Smartlet unit.

A ZigBee transceiver, compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, is used to pass the captured data to a ZigBee gateway, which then passes the data to a central server containing software that validates the card's ID number and account status – in real-time. Not to mention that the signal between the card and reader will be encrypted to secure the data transmitted by the cards. Without this added protection, people would most likely hesitate to take advantage of the benefits of paying with RFID credit and debit cards.

In the same way that RFID is reshaping aspects of the retail and healthcare markets, it is revolutionizing the Electric Vehicle industry which is still arguably in the nascent stage. If it can help shape an industry that has not had time to mature, imagine what RFID can do for a well established industry.

How to Share Your Car with a Stranger

Posted by Ken Lynch on Tue, Sep 07, 2010 @ 02:33 PM

Tags: RFID, Electric Vehicles, Automobile Access

RelayRides Provides Access to Your Neighbor’s Car with RFID

This summer on the streets of Cambridge, MA, a few well intentioned hawkers were handing out nicely printed postcards with information about what appeared to be some kind of local ride share offering.  A commuter from well outside of Cambridge, I stuffed the card in my bag and didn’t pay it much attention.  It wasn’t until I read a recent article published in Scott Kirsner's Innovation Economy column in the Boston Globe that I made the connection. 

RelayRidesRelayRides, the business being marketed on the post card and the subject of Kirsner’s article, is a Cambridge based start-up that matches people who need a car for local transportation with people who own underutilized cars and want to earn a little money by lending them out.  Marketed as person-to-person or neighbor-to-neighbor car-sharing, RelayRides puts a twist on car-share services by getting car owners to share their vehicles with perfect strangers.  In addition to facilitating the transaction and insuring the drivers, RelayRides also installs the necessary technology in each car – including an RFID sensor that unlocks the doors when a RelayRides membership card is swiped over the windshield.

Car sharing in Europe began decades ago and started to catch on in the United States about 10 years ago. ZipCar, which owns a fleet of vehicles instead of using other people’s cars, is a leader in the car share market with about 325,000 members.  According to an article in The New York Times, ZipCar is experiencing increasing competition from small regional car sharing services, presumably like RelayRides, and from programs offered by well known rental companies like Connect by Hertz and Enterprise WeCar

With Connect by Hertz claiming most of its 10,000 members participating in programs offered at universities and ZipCar claiming to have cars on 140 campuses, the education market seems to be a prime target for their programs.  The growing number of hybrid and electric cars entering the market also seems to be a natural fit for car-share programs – lending to analyst forecasts of membership growth to two million by 2013.

What do you think?  Would you participate in a car-share program with your own car?  On a larger scale, what are your thoughts on the combination of RFID-enabled automobile access for car-share programs, RFID-enabled electric car charging stations, and contactless payment methods?  They seem to be making for an interesting emerging transit and commuting infrastructure. 

No Greenwashing Here: How RFID Helps the Environment

Posted by Ken Lynch on Thu, Jul 29, 2010 @ 10:12 AM

Tags: HF RFID, Electric Vehicles, ZigBee

3 Powerful Examples: EV power Station Billing, Pedal Power and Recycling

Electric Car ParkingUp until last week when BP plugged the massive leak on the Deepwater Horizon oil well, not a day went by that we weren’t told about its toll on the environment.  It also presented a reality-check about the downside risk of our reliance on fossil fuels while providing another spark for the debate on how we can move quickly towards more conservation, alternative energy and other environmentally-friendly programs. 

Amidst the gloom of the situation in the Gulf, there is more encouraging news, most notably the latest announcements by GM and Nissan this week about the pricing and availability of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, respectively.  While the imminent mass production of electric vehicles (EVs) will be a major step forward towards breaking our reliance on fossil fuels, much of the challenge, goes way beyond the new eco-responsible products and programs available to consumers.  Equally as important is the supporting infrastructure that is going to make them pervasive and as easy to use as their dirtier predecessors.  This is another significant area where RFID technology is making a difference. 

Today’s installment of the 100 uses of RFID campaign covering innovation in the electric vehicle market, is the first three examples of how RFID is helping the environment.  Stay tuned for posts 2 and 3 on bike commuting and recycling.

Innovation in Infrastructure Supporting EVs

Average consumers may be unaware of the significant amount of innovation that has been taking place in parallel to the development of EVs that is preparing this new class of car to go mainstream.  It’s staggering. 

For example, much of this is in the area of technologies that address “range anxiety”, or the concern by EV drivers that they will lose their battery charge before they get to their destination and become stranded.  This means that EVs will have a diverse range of new telematics built in as standard features of these vehicles.   

By definition, telematics is the integrated use of telecommunications and informatics, also known as ICT (Information and Communications Technology).  It is the science of sending, receiving and storing information via telecommunication devices. Many of us are familiar with telematics, such as optional features like navigation systems or systems that automatically parallel park a car.  These systems are crucial to give the driver much more information about the car, their navigation and route, as well as for the car to communicate with various networks, whether it is a GPS network to tell the driver where the nearest charging station is or a cellular network to get updated traffic and weather conditions.  What is at the heart of telematics systems are sensors that perform machine-to-machine (M2M) communications.

A sub-category of telematics that industry analyst Frost & Sullivan says will be a crucial feature in EVs is what it calls Charging Environment Related Dynamic Points of Interest (POI).  This monitors the vehicle and communicates through networks to give the driver several piece of information to help them plan their driving to ensure they are not stranded without being able to charge their vehicles.  This information includes estimated distance on an existing charge, availability and booking of nearby charging stations, location of charging stations and the state of charge.  These systems work hand in hand with other forms of telematics like navigation systems and vehicle identification remove the burden from the driver of making sure he or she gets to where they’re going.

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

With the imminent arrival of the Volt and Leaf to dealer showrooms, the race is on to install charging stations.  It has been estimated that up to 20 percent of cars in the U.S. will be electric by 2013 and studies indicate that 40 percent of consumers who say they would purchase an electric car have no access to a garage for overnight charging or will need to charge their car when away from home.  In addition, longer drives between cities and towns require a network of public charging stations or another method to extend the range of electric vehicles beyond the normal daily commute.  As a result, charging stations will be needed where there is on-street parking, in parking lots, at places of employment, hotels, airports and shopping centers, among other places.

RFID is a critical technology for these stations because it allows for easy payment by consumers needing to recharge their vehicles.  Coulomb Technologies of Campbell, California has been installing its networked charging stations since 2008.  Subscribers to Coulomb’s service use an RFID smartcard or key fob to initiate a charge by holding it up to the station equipped with an embedded reader.  The captured data is passed through a mesh network to a central server that authorizes the charge – all in real time.

Coulomb’s solution uses a combination of high-frequency RFID tags and readers and ZigBee transceivers. Others are exploring the read range advantages of UHF RFID, which could allow consumers to simply drive up to a station which would read a transponder on the car’s windshield and validate and authorize a charge before the consumer even gets out of the car. 

Stay tuned to this blog (by subscribing via RSS) and follow ThingMagic on Twitter for two more posts on RFID and the environment, as we’ll share examples of its use to encourage bike commuting, recycling, and others.  In the meantime, what do you expect from EVs before you’ll consider buying one?

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