Open Vehicles Community Releases Electric-Car Monitoring App

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

2011 Tesla Roadster Sport. Photo by Joe Nuxoll.

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Buy a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt, and you can use an app on your smartphone to query the car about its state of charge, start or stop charging, and warm or cool the cabin before unplugging--all of it remotely.

As electric-car owners have found, it's wonderfully useful. But not all electric cars offer a remote app, until now.

Today, a group of owners who came together to form the OpenVehicles community announced that it is releasing the first production version of an app that lets owners monitor any vehicle remotely.

And it's not necessarily restricted to electric cars, either. With modification, the open-source software could be used for any recent vehicle.

We first saw the product last December, when it promised to offer owners of Tesla Roadsters some of the features available in Nissan and Chevy smartphone apps.

Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength and--like many community-based or "crowd-sourced" projects--it has quickly adapted to new requirements.

One such new requirement came from the the widely publicized battery 'bricking' issue, in which electric-car owners run a risk of total battery failure if they leave their cars unplugged for many months with a battery that's largely discharged already.

We won't rehash those risks here, but many owners feel there should be a means for Tesla Roadsters to alert their owners if the battery pack becomes dangerously low.

Tesla Motors has responded to the need, and offers just such a service, in which it monitors the car via a built-in cellular link and contacts the owner directly if the pack is getting dangerously low.

But that monitoring  is only built into Roadster 2.0 and 2.5 models (the 2010 and 2011 models). And not all owners feel the factory offering is sufficient.

That's where the community has stepped in: since December, the Open Vehicle Monitoring System has been updated to include a feature that alerts the driver via text message if the battery state of charge falls to 4 percent.

With instant notification direct to the owner's mobile phone, that should be enough spare capacity to get the car charged up before any battery falls to zero charge.

The free app also lets smartphone users locate their car, check its charging status, lock or unlock the doors, change charging mode, enable the restricted valet mode, and even stream the car's current location to friends.

The module is available from and is designed to work with both new and existing cars.

And what of cars beyond the very limited-production Tesla Roadster? The project was designed from the start to be open-source, allowing anyone to take and adapt the original software for their purpose.

Like most software, modifying it is not for the fainthearted and requires advanced programming and hardware development skills. If you're interested, you too can join the development team.

So what car would you bolt this into?

Michael Thwaite is an electric-vehicle advocate who lives in New Jersey and works in information technology. He also runs the Tesla Motors Club. When he was 12 years old, he hoped that when he grew up, we'd all be driving electric cars. More than 30 years later, they're finally here.


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