The Networked Charger
How does the future of mobility shift? Does new technology disrupt the transportation landscape with seismic force? Or does it slide in like a sly dinner guest, slowly and quietly winning friends and influencing industries?
Electrification has redefined how many of us get from A to B. Not only has it transformed the 135-year-old role of the automobile, it has challenged everything we thought we knew about personal transportation and the consumer’s willingness to invest in new technological ideologies.
At the forefront of these shifts is the networked charger, arguably the single most important innovation in the EV realm beyond the electric vehicle itself. These devices transcend mere hardware by connecting to the cloud, enabling them to anticipate where and when range anxiety–quelling recharges are available, optimizing utilization and efficiency by communicating with consumers and businesses in realtime. Networked chargers ultimately possess the power to bring electric vehicles deeper into the mainstream consciousness by anticipating the unique needs of this growing movement.
One key innovator within this realm is executive and entrepreneur Praveen Mandal. The current Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Volta Charging*, Mandal launched his career with pioneering work in the smart charger space when he co-founded ChargePoint in 2007.
Mandal has been credited as the inventor of the networked charging station concept, which transformed the technology from a passive one into an active, adaptable system that serves as the foundation of almost all charging stations today: a dynamic compute and communication infrastructure that enables driver notifications, station visibility and control, reservation systems, and billing services.
“I’m an R&D guy,” he says, hinting that research and development people are the ones who make things happen. It’s the nuts-and-bolts skill set that has been responsible for everything from the creation of computer systems to the formation of the internet. And while the statement can seem grandiose, Mandal emphasizes that practical innovation is often evolutionary, not revolutionary, combining elements that we know in order to leapfrog forward.
For instance, he cites the development of the networked charger as taking two already established technologies — charging stations and cell phone technology — and combining them into a hybrid piece of hardware. By embedding a processor with a CDMA chipset into a charging device and linking it to client server architecture, the connected charger was born.
The Next Chapter of EV Charging Stations
While he refers to smart chargers as “Act One” of the story, Volta’s next chapter is being written as we type. Using machine learning technology, Mandal promises to further differentiate the scope of Volta’s services. And here’s where broad experiences bring innovation to the table: he is co-founder of the data sciences company 2predict and acts as a Fellow at MIT Connection Science; a group involved in advances in blockchain, artificial intelligence, and computational social sciences. Mandal is able to view his role at Volta through fresh eyes that aren’t afraid to think outside of the box. “A key step towards progress is stepping beyond your immediate professional bubble and into a new bubble,” he says, insisting that the multidisciplinary approach will help build Volta to provide a more adaptable, future-proof charger network. “I’m all about cross-bubble pollination,” he says.
We have arrived at a unique moment in history when the vulnerability of the oil industry appears to be at an all-time high, and momentum behind electric vehicles is greater than ever. Like countless innovations in the past, Volta’s next chapter — and the future of EVs — will be written based on an evolution of a foundation that has been established thus far. Dubbed internally as “PredictEV,” it uses an extensive data set based on a wide number of parameters — from driving patterns to population distribution to dwell time at chargers — in order to model out driver behavior and output the best locations to place charging stations so that you don’t get the “stranded asset” problem you see in today’s infrastructure deployment. This will put Volta on the forefront to make its expanding charging network future-proof.
In other words, machine learning and artificial intelligence are playing integral roles in optimizing the expansion of the charger network, helping pave the way for more widespread EV adoption. This new model takes every piece of the puzzle into account — from the impact on the electrical grid to improvements in air quality and health — to create significant societal and economic benefits. An expansive EV charging network will be seamlessly integrated into daily life based on advances that ultimately make driving an electric vehicle more stress-free and environmentally friendly than ever.
Converting cold, hard data into a highly dynamic ecosystem intended to modernize urban transportation is no small feat. But Mandal and his team are defining how the next wave of smart, connected chargers will drive the widespread adoption of electric vehicles; one that conforms to existing behavior versus having to drive new behaviors.
*This article is sponsored by Volta Charging.
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