With numerous computer control systems, electric vehicles are some of the smartest vehicles on the road today. Cars like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster, and Chevrolet Volt are equipped with numerous computers and sensors. They are also able to communicate with the internet, which allows for remote monitoring and control by the owner, as well as providing unprecedented amounts of performance data for engineers to review.

The array of sensors and computers needed to operate these vehicles means that there is a lot of data available about the car. The dashboards of these vehicles typically have much more information available to the driver about the power generating state (whether the car is charging or not), momentary and overall efficiency, and a range of other data, but that is just a small fraction of the information that is collected about the vehicle.

Connecting cars to the electronic world we inhabit was one of the major trends at this past year’s North American International Auto Show. Many manufacturers are developing applications for smartphones and finding ways of integrating the car and the driver’s lifestyle. Along with this, more and more data about the vehicle is available to both the owner and the manufacturer. Car owners can access some of this data through subscriptions, like a monthly email report from OnStar for owners of the Chevrolet Volt.

The manufacturers of several electric vehicles not only offer data to the car owners, but also are using this data internally. Although the various manufacturer programs are strict about privacy concerns and do not share the data with others, their engineers are certainly using this collected data about vehicle performance to learn more about how these relatively new vehicles are performing in the real world. There have even been cases where a problem with a vehicle was identified through anomalous readings, enabling the manufacturer to contact the car owner in order to fix the problem before it became a more serious issue.

As with software that sends the developer a crash report when it fails, to allow it to be improved and debugged, automotive engineers are also able to learn from the data that is reported from these vehicles. This information will assist with both the maintenance of existing vehicles as well as providing a better profile about vehicle use that will be helpful in improving new models of electric vehicles and learning how to make improvements in range and performance for subsequent models of these cars.

Main photo credit: rudisillart and Mariordo/Wikimedia Commons