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In Better Place cars however, the TomTom system has been replaced by Oscar, Better Place’s own onboard telematics system.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