Better Place Battery Swapping: The Technology Behind The Idea

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Better Place Battery Swapping

Better Place Battery Swapping

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Last week, we shared with you our first-hand experience of driving an electric car through a Better Place battery swap station in Israel. 

Publicly, especially outside of Israel, Better Place’s concept of switching out depleted electric car battery packs for fully charged ones at its proprietary automated switch stations is what the firm is best known for.

As we discovered on our recent trip to Israel however, the battery swap stations are just a tiny part of an holistic technological solution for electric car drivers that covers everything from charging stations through to route-planning, battery maintenance and grid power management.

Integration: the heart of Better Place

One of Better Place’s first tasks as a business was to design and build a fully integrated computer network, linking its operations center to each and every car, charging station, and battery swap station together. 

Taking 4 years to develop, 400 in-house engineers and nearly 1,000 additional engineers working with partner firms, Better Place’s operations center and data network allows it to know the status of every device on its network. 


Better Place Battery Swapping

Better Place Battery Swapping

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By connecting every device, Better Place says it can remedy problems quickly, and ensure that customers aren’t left without service if a charge or battery swap station unexpectedly fails. 

It does this by requiring each charge and swap station to report its status at regular intervals. If a charge station fails to report in, or reports a fault, Better Place can send engineers to rectify the problem. 

Meanwhile, its operations center sends notifications to any customers in the area through the telematics system found in each car, directing them to nearby alternative refueling as required. 

Oscar: part GPS, part telematics

When we drove the non-Better Place version of the 2012 Renault Fluence Z.E. in November last year, we were guided on our test-drive by the built-in TomTom navigation system found standard on most modern Renault cars. 

In Better Place cars however, the TomTom system has been replaced by Oscar, Better Place’s own onboard telematics system. 

Combining the functionality of a GPS with the sophistication of a fully-networked battery management system, Oscar is the driver’s first port of call for all matters related to battery charging. 

Thanks to two-way communication, Oscar can not only provide real-time rerouting around congestion, but it can also ensure that customers don’t run out of charge en-route. 

Better Place Battery Swapping

Better Place Battery Swapping

Enlarge Photo

There’s more.

Because Oscar differentiates between individual drivers, it can provide accurate range predictions based on each person’s individual driving style and history.  

Better Place also claims the system is aware of weather, road type and road conditions, meaning it can predict range based on the particulars of the route map -- not just past driving history.

Reach less than 20 percent full en-route or have a range at destination of less than 20 percent, and Oscar will offer to route you to the nearest battery swap station. 

In most of Israel, these are spaced every 25 miles or so.

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Comments (5)
  1. Bravo Nikki. Seriously. That is a masterful piece of journalism. I've written thousands of words on this, which is easy to do. Putting all that in 1000 is a real win.

    By my understanding, at the moment, they're not really using the delayed charging or the priority charge request because there aren't nearly enough cars for it to matter. But the details are all written in fairly understandable language into the customer agreement.

  2. As nifty as this is, and perhaps as obvious a solution as it is, it simply will not fly if car manufacturers do not make their cars Better Place compliant.

    In the USA, as of now, between Leaf, Volt, Tesla, and the models in the pipeline for 2013, none have announced support for this.

    The most popular, Volt, the batteries are not even close to be being in the right place.

    And the amount of companies that are rolling out electric charging stations, Level 1, 2, and 3 ... charging and swapping are competing.

    We already have enough confusion with Tesla and their proprietary SuperCharger as cool as it is.

    Will people buy their EV's without batteries?

    And lease batteries from Better Place?

  3. The Volt uses an on board gasoline ICE so is not a real electric car. I'm not sure if BP will ever install their systems here so the iMEV and Leaf need not meet their specs; Tesla is now in a position to offer 300 miles of range in their new sedan so I don't see a tie-in with BP is needed. Israel seems to be a special case since BP must manage their use of the grid and, as you know, the country is an island surrounded by threating nations.

    Right now only Tesla, Nissan and Mitsubitsi appear to be serious about selling mass-produced BEVs. The others are offering California compliance cars at this time.

  4. 2nd Brian's comment. by far the best article so far detailing the behind the scenes aspect of BP

  5. I would be very surprised if in 15 years from now Better Place has replaced the dozens of fast-charging outlets being installed worldwide each day.
    Like DVD-HD vs Blu-Ray, there can be only one... Should be interesting to watch.

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