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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 OpenVehicles.com 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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Comments (8)
  1. So it looks like it's only for the Tesla now...
     
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  2. … for now. The hardware is based on the standards that exist in the car industry so can be moved to other platforms. Do you have one in mind?
     
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  3. I think I've downloaded nearly every EV app just to try them out. I have downloaded Open Vehicle, though I can only play with it at the moment it's very well put together. I really think that apps that let you monitor your state of charge are a great tools to help prevent the dreaded disease, Range Anxiety.
     
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  4. I've ordered mine to alert me if I'm charging and there's a plug pulled out - thats the kind of range anxiety I have.
     
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  5. I've thought about that aswell. I'm sure it will happen, some kid or people who dislike EVs will pull the plug on your car either because they'll think it's funny or simply to show their odd dislike of electric cars. It really is a good security feature. Not that this will be common, and it's not exactly defacing private property like getting keyed.
     
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  6. I was more worried about breakers popping when you're charging at a hotel.
     
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  7. Hi, I'm Mark - one of the founders of the open vehicles project. Nice write-up, Michael. I find that the notifications are nice, but I'm a bit obsessive compulsive - never sure if I missed the notification. The nicest thing about the system, for me, is the ability to remotely check-in on the car at any time. See what the battery and charging status is, restart the charge if it failed, even lock the car remotely if you forgot to. You can do this whenever, and however often, you want - all without having to physically go and check up on the car.
     
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  8. It is a really good app, and I like that there are advanced features to it, it's not just a battery monitor.
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