Carnegie Mellon University
Skip navigation and jump directly to page content

Win a Car

Maximize Electric Car Performance


Researchers in Carnegie Mellon University's electric car conversion project, ChargeCar, have announced a contest to find the most efficient methods for managing power in their electric vehicles. The grand prize: an electric car.

"The number of variables that could possibly affect an electric car's performance and the strain on its batteries is virtually infinite," said Illah Nourbakhsh associate professor of robotics and director of the Robotics Institute's CREATE Lab. "Crowdsourcing is our best hope for sifting through those variables to find the optimal method for managing the flow of current between the motor and the power storage system. A contest seems the best way to draw a crowd and tap its wisdom."

ChargeCarPrize is free and open to virtually anyone anywhere in the world. Contestants can download a software package, data files on driving behavior and some examples of power management policies from the project website. Some basic knowledge of Java programming is required to encode a contestant's power management algorithm, said Alex Styler, a robotics graduate student supervising the contest.

"But even if you don't know anything about programming, you could learn what you need in a day," Styler added. "The most important quality for winning this contest is intuition, not programming skill."

ChargeCar is a community-centered research project of the CREATE Lab that seeks to revolutionize commuting with electric vehicles. Working with Pittsburgh-area mechanics, researchers are developing methods for converting gas-powered cars into affordable electric vehicles practical for commuting. The electric cars will employ artificial intelligence to manage their power, thus improving efficiency and reducing wear-and-tear on batteries.

In addition to batteries, the ChargeCar project will use supercapacitors as part of each vehicle's power system. While batteries have trouble handling the surges of power associated with starting or stopping a vehicle, supercapacitors can rapidly discharge current for acceleration and can rapidly store current produced by regenerative braking. Supercapacitors can thus improve vehicle performance, while reducing wear-and-tear that can dramatically shorten the life of expensive batteries.

The trick, Nourbakhsh says, is finding the best way to handle the flow of power between batteries, supercapacitors and motor. When should power be transferred from battery to supercapacitor, or vice versa? When should the motor draw power from the battery? When should it draw from the supercapacitor? To make these decisions, the system can rely on knowledge of the driver's normal routes, driving habits, traffic conditions, road conditions, geography, time of day and even weather conditions.

"Any source of information is fair game for people designing power management policies, as long as the source is publicly available," Styler said.

The ChargeCar project is sponsored by Carnegie Mellon alumna Donna Auguste and her husband David Hayes, Google Inc., The Heinz Endowments and Bombardier Inc.

Related Links: Contest Rules  |  School of Computer Science  |  Follow SCS on Twitter

Homepage Story Archives