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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