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Smarter Electric Cars

An Electric Car Charging

Tomorrow's electric cars could get smarter, thanks to artificial intelligence and...well, military tanks.

So says robotics expert Illah Nourbakhsh of Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. He's making electric cars go farther on less juice using technology from tanks and artificial intelligence.

Modern tanks power up differently than cars. In cars, the engine starts thanks to a capacitor that stores electricity to produce that initial jolt. But tanks use what's called a supercapacitor. These have denser storage to release big electricity bursts to start a tank's big engine.

Nourbakhsh realized those bigger bursts might help electric car batteries, which are notoriously energy-hungry, to run more efficiently.

So he converted a 2001 Scion xB, installed a supercapacitor, a low-cost battery pack and a computer with artificial intelligence software. Then he programmed in commuter routes, including every hill, bend and curve, from actual Pittsburgh commuters.

The software read the commuter routes and told the engine when to draw power from the battery or the supercapacitor, and when to store energy if the car coasted downhill.

Battery life increased a whopping 50 percent. Nourbakhsh estimates commuters could save 80 percent on energy costs.

Now that's a smart car.

Script by Gail Davis

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