The idea is that your car, using the Internet and a Smartcar subscription, should be able to figure out what time you head off to work each day. Once it does, it can have the cabin at the right temperature (heated in the winter, cooled in the summer) and the battery charged for the drive by the time you're headed out the door. The automated system can also tell the charger to only slurp electrons when lower-cost nighttime electricity rates are in effect. The slightly confusing part is that the Model S already has the capability to program nighttime charging built-in and it can also be pre-conditioned remotely without the Smartcar system, you just have to tell it to do so with your smart phone (see one happy driver doing just this in frigid temperatures in the second video below). The difference with Smartcar is that your Tesla will soon be able to do all this stuff automatically. For example, the system "predicts the required range for your next journey" and "will only delay charging to off-peak hours when it can confidently determine your vehicle will have enough range available for the rest of the day." Smartcar is being designed for the Model S and the upcoming Model X, but the developers say "we're working to bring support to connected vehicles from other manufacturers in the near future."
"Whenever you can automate something, that's where the value comes in" - Smartcar CEO Sahas Katta
The lead developer behind Smartcar is Sahas Katta, who readers might remember from his GlassTesla project, which integrated Google Glass with a Model S. We called him up to ask why it makes sense to pay $100 a year for a Smartcar subscription when the features it offers are available in the car's default settings. Katta had obviously thought the arguments through, and told AutoblogGreen that he knows plenty of Model S owners who don't remember to set these triggers every day. "Whenever you can automate something, that's where the value comes in," he said. "We're very inspired by Nest."
Automating the process can make financial sense, Katta said. In California, he said, electricity rates can be different not only based on the hour, but also based on the season and weekends vs. weekdays. Tesla owners know they should be charging during off-peak hours, but many don't bother to look up when the rates change all the time. They should, though, if they want to save money. A Model S that goes 15,000 miles a year using nothing but peak charging in the San Jose area will use about $1,800 of electricity. Using Smartcar's automated "only at off-peak hours" setting, the same 15,000 miles would cost just $1,000. It's numbers like that that mean Katta is "confident this will be in every car on the road in five years."
Katta is "confident this will be in every car on the road in five years."
Oh, and what about a possible legal challenge? Katta said he researched the name, and discovered that Daimler certainly has a trademark for "Smart," the actual name of the brand, but neither Daimler nor anyone else owns the Smart Car trademark. Katta has of course filed paperwork to claim the rights to the name.
Smartcar is not a reality yet, but it is available for preorder here. So far, the project has received $1,200 of its $50,000 goal, with 30 days yet go in a crowdfunding campaign. The cost for a Smartcar subscription will be $100 a year, but if you pre-order, the price is cut in half. If the goal isn't met, Smartcar says it will refund all pre-orders. Katta said he thinks he's earned the trust of the Tesla community, since over 220 people are using GlassTesla, and that, "we're not foreseeing that we'll miss the goal."