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ChargeCar hosts open house, unveils prototype
March 28, 2011

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University unveiled an all-electric 2002 Honda Civic, the production prototype for their ChargeCar Electric Vehicle Conversion Project, and began taking names of people who want their own converted vehicle at an open house Friday, March 25 at the Electric Garage, 4621 Forbes Ave., in Oakland.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and Pittsburgh City Council member Bill Peduto were among those on hand. Watch the video.

ChargeCar is a community-centered project of the Robotics Institute’s CREATE Lab. Researchers are working with local mechanics to develop methods and components necessary for efficiently converting electric cars into vehicles that can be used for commuting. Initial efforts have focused on 2001-2005 model year Honda Civics.

“For now, you can electrify any car you want — as long as it’s a Honda Civic,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate research professor of robotics and head of the CREATE Lab. He said other makes and models will be added to the list as the project progresses.

The production prototype is a 2002 Civic EX four-door sedan. Its conventional powertrain has been replaced with a 35-horsepower electric motor and 33 lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. Its range in mixed urban/highway driving is more than 40 miles and it has a top speed of more than 70 miles per hour.

The cost of conversions will be capped at $20,000, Nourbakhsh said, with ChargeCar absorbing any overages for now.

In addition to Nourbakhsh, the co-directors of ChargeCar are Ben Brown and Gregg Podnar, technical staff members of the Robotics Institute.

ChargeCar also continues to study power management as a way of making electric vehicles more efficient. Unlike the battery-only approach currently being used in the car conversion, this smart power management scheme would combine batteries with an electric storage device called a supercapacitor. By using various artificial intelligence methods to control when electric charge is either drawn from the batteries or stored in the supercapacitor, it should be possible to extend battery life and increase the range and performance of electric vehicles. The project sponsors a monthly contest that challenges participants to develop ever-more-efficient computer algorithms for managing power.

For more details on ChargeCar, visit the project website at chargecar.org.

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


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