UW News

June 23, 2014

Zippy, electric micro cars coming to campus for sustainability research

UW News

Don’t be surprised to see four little cars zipping around campus soon. They are part of a new research project that aims to reduce the university’s carbon footprint, gather data and initiate more sustainability research among faculty members and students.

The University of Washington is one of four institutions receiving four Innova Dash all-electric micro vehicles this summer. The cars, called “new urban electric vehicles,” will connect to the UW’s wireless network and will be equipped with tablet-sized personal computers. They will be able to communicate data such as position, speed and battery charge directly to the UW’s network, which will provide the information to various research projects.

“It’s a fantastic research platform,” said project co-leader Payman Arabshahi, an associate professor of electrical engineering and a principal research scientist with the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

“Among the biggest impacts here will be an opportunity for faculty and students from different departments to work with each other. We will have a mobile, fully connected and instrumented system with electrical, mechanical and chemical components, and applications in many engineering domains.”

The UW’s project leaders also include Yinhai Wang, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, and Daniel Kirschen, a professor of electrical engineering. They will choose projects from proposals submitted by faculty in engineering, information technology, and environmental and forest sciences. Broadly, the projects will cover topics in sensing, energy, communications and transportation.

Potential projects range from using the cars to test automated parking technologies, developing a program similar to the UW’s NightRide service, strategizing the best way to charge electric cars and even detecting and recording bird songs on campus. The research and project designs will involve undergraduate and graduate students.

“A lot of people at the UW are interested in electric vehicles from different perspectives,” said Kirschen, who is hoping to study and identify patterns of everyday use of these electric cars on campus. “The university has a good track record in sustainability and getting students involved in this type of research.”

Colorado State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin-Madison were also chosen to receive electric cars. The four schools were selected by the non-profit organization Internet2 and Innova UEV from a pool of 11 proposals. The UW’s project is also supported by UW Information Technology, which will provide wireless and cellular connectivity, as well as cloud computing resources for the various experiments.

Depending on the nature of the projects, a student or faculty or staff member might get to take a ride in one of these electric cars. Just remember to hold onto your hat.