BMW's Tech Office in Silicon Valley reflects the startup culture that pervades the region. While BMW provides funding for the space and human costs, the Tech Office's team of engineers and researchers are encouraged to work on big picture projects, even if the results might not have any near-term effect on current production vehicles. One such project was supporting tech needs at the London Olympics, but we went to Silicon Valley to check out how BMW is using technology to further the EV and how customers interact with it.

BMW's ActiveE is a fully electric car based off the 1-Series coupe. Instead of a gasoline engine, the car is powered by a 32 kWh lithium-ion battery sending energy to a 168 hp electric motor. All that power is sent directly to the rear wheels to preserve BMW's sporty driving dynamics. While the lease volume of the ActiveE was kept low ( 700 "electronauts"), BMW's main goal is to study how customers use electric cars and how to add value to the EV lifestyle.

BMW Tech Office employees are living and working with the electric cars in an attempt to optimize the experience of owning an EV. The first step is to recognize that the majority of customers charge their EV at home. In response, BMW developed a 'smart home' eMobility lab at the Tech Office, complete with cloud-controlled energy-efficient appliances. This local energy grid is managed and monitored by Tech Office employees, who have kept a close eye on the energy draw of the ActiveE--essentially another big electric appliance. One main takeaway: it's important that drivers charge during off-peak hours, when energy costs can be cut in half.

If peak hours are needed to charge, BMW's eMobility lab has an option to reduce costs. It's called the solar tree, a modest-sized solar panel attached to a metal post that the ActiveE can be parked under. The 'tree' collects the sun's energy and sends it to the car, allowing the ActiveE to recharge on renewable energy. Using an app developed by BMW, Tech Office employees are able to manage how much energy is coming in and going out of the entire system. Under BMW's careful use, they have been able to get roughly 800 miles of charge per month out of the Solar Tree. (Think about how much gas would be needed to go that far in a normal car!)

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