This actually isn't the first time that Ford has done something like this. Several years ago, when Ford deployed a test fleet of hydrogen-fueled shuttle buses across North America, the vehicles were equipped to automatically notify the engineers if any issues or faults were detected.
The new system allows the engineers to collect data from the battery systems in real-time as they are being driven or cycled using wireless broadband systems. Engineers can also determine when test units are idle and use that time to implement software updates remotely over the wireless connection. This allows them to iterate the control system more quickly than ever before. While this sort of remote update capability in production could save customers from having to bring vehicles into the dealer for service, widespread deployment is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of security concerns.
Ford plans to use lithium ion batteries in all of its upcoming plug-in vehicles as well as its next-generation of non-plug hybrids that debut in 2012.
Ford accelerates Electric Vehicle battery testing with wireless monitoring systems
- Ford is using two proprietary wireless monitoring methods to improve lithium-ion battery capability and durability by collecting real-time performance data and making software updates on its battery systems in the lab and on vehicles in the field
- Remote monitoring has significantly reduced test-fleet downtime and allowed Ford to more than double its battery lab-testing capability
- Ford is conducting rigorous lifecycle tests of new lithium-ion battery systems to evaluate the technology's ability to recharge under a broad range of environmental conditions
- The advanced battery and fleet vehicle research supports Ford's global electrification plan, which includes five new vehicles in North America by 2012 and Europe by 2013 – the Transit Connect Electric, Focus Electric, two next-generation hybrids and a plug-in hybrid
Ford's rapid progress is enabled by two monitoring methods that allow engineers to collect real-time performance data from batteries in the lab and on vehicles in the field via a secure Internet server, and wirelessly update system software to improve capability and durability. These proprietary methods have significantly reduced test-fleet downtime and allowed Ford to more than double its battery lab-testing capability.
"Remote monitoring allows us to access real-time data and make continuous improvements very quickly," said Sherif Marakby, Ford director, Electrification Program and Engineering. "This degree of efficiency would have been unthinkable a few years ago and will help Ford bring more fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles to market more quickly than ever before."
Ford will launch two zero-emission all-electric vehicles – the Transit Connect Electric light commercial van in North America in late 2010 and in Europe in 2011, followed by the Focus Electric passenger car in North America in 2011 and Europe in 2012. Two next-generation hybrid electric vehicles and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle follow in North America in 2012 and Europe in 2013.
Testing the limits
Ford's future hybrid and electric vehicles will use new lithium-ion battery systems that offer about twice the energy content of the nickel-metal-hydride systems used today, and take up less space inside the vehicle. Although lithium-ion batteries are widely used in the consumer electronics industry, the larger systems to be used in vehicles are designed to manage greater electrical loads under harsher conditions. Only through rigorous testing can the new systems be properly calibrated.
Ford's battery researchers are focusing on lithium-ion technology's ability to recharge under a range of conditions including state of charge (from empty to full), battery age (from new to old) and environmental temperatures (from freezing cold to scorching hot).
Understanding how lithium-ion's material properties perform under a variety of conditions is a critical step toward determining system control algorithms that will allow quick, efficient recharging while minimizing cell deterioration to maximize battery life.
Ford researchers are conducting rigorous lifecycle tests of new lithium-ion battery systems to evaluate the technology's ability to recharge under a broad range of environmental conditions.
"So far, we've been impressed by our system's exceptionally low internal resistance, which means the battery charges very quickly and efficiently," said Ted Miller, manager, Advanced Energy Storage Technology. "As we continue our testing, we will be able to calculate the system's optimal recharge rate while maximizing battery life."
Whether testing battery systems in the lab or fleet vehicles on the road, Ford engineers use the remote battery and vehicle test monitoring system to collect real-time data and identify opportunities to implement software updates to manage thermal load and maximize power capability, energy capacity and lifecycle durability.
System-specific engineers are notified via email whenever these software update opportunities occur, based on adaptive event monitoring that can detect conditions of interest and automatically collect relevant data. This method has already led to at least 20 major design improvements for Ford's future plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles.
"The data we've collected have helped us understand how lithium-ion battery cells behave under various temperatures and states of charge," said Jas Dhillon, global electric vehicle fleet manager. "And the monitoring system allows us to make software updates to the fleet vehicles while they recharge. What used to be logistically complicated and time consuming can be accomplished now with a click of a mouse."