Electric cars coming to Pitt this year

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Electric cars coming to Pitt this year

By Harrison Kaminsky / Assistant News Editor

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Cars that cost only 25 cents per day to operate and can connect to the Internet may sound like an idea out of a sci-fi novel but they’re coming to Pitt this year. 

Internet2, a collaborative research group, selected Pitt along with three other universities to each receive four Innova Dash electric micro vehicles for research on reducing the campus’s carbon footprint throughout the next year. The electric vehicles will arrive on Pitt’s campus later this summer and research for the Internet of Things University Electric Vehicle Research Project will begin in the fall and continue through summer 2015.

Brian Stengel, who works as a staff member at Pitt in the Office of the Chief Information Officer, will serve as project manager and outreach coordinator for Pitt’s research team on the project. 

“One aspect of the project will be collection of data related to length of the charging period and the cost of the electricity needed to charge the vehicles,” Stengel said.

The Innova Dash, according to Roman Kuropas, founder and CEO of Innova UEV LLC, manufacturer of the vehicle, is a two-seat “university electric vehicle,” or UEV. For research, the vehicles will feature sensors to determine the driver’s heart rate and blood pressure, calculate a wellness score and more. The UEVs will also have three GoPro cameras on board to include video sensing. 

In addition to a number of different sensors, the UEVs will be connected to each schools’ “eduroam” wireless network, just like a student’s laptop computer. Because the UEVs will be connected to the Internet, the research teams will be able to access all of the data collected by the cars’ sensors, analyze the data, determine the location of the cars and more.

The cars’ connection to the network represents an increasingly popular concept known as the “Internet of Things,” which refers to previously unconnected objects going “online” to support a new Internet-like structure.

Aside from Pitt, teams from Colorado State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington were selected from the 11 submitted proposals to Internet2 and Innova UEV LLC. The four winning proposals were announced by Internet2 and Innove UEV LLC on Monday. 

According to Stengel, Pitt was a strong candidate for the project because it has an existing campus sustainability plan, campus cyber-infrastructure plan and strong research in sensors and sustainability. 

The team has not yet received a specific date for the UEVs’ delivery but the cars will arrive on campus this summer. 

Because the UEVs cannot reach a speed fit for driving on the highway, Pitt students and faculty members can expect to see Pitt employees driving the vehicles around campus when the fall semester begins.

Pre-identified Pitt employees can drive the UEVs, which will be accessible through their Pitt account username and password. 

Stengel said Pitt employees will park the UEVs at the O’Hara and Posvar parking garages, where they will charge for the next use.

Stengel said the pre-identified employees will include people from the Swanson School of Engineering, CSSD and Parking and Transportation. The drivers will receive an orientation on driving the UEVs before they drive them.

According to Steve Wolff, interim chief technology officer for Internet2, the selection committee chose the four schools based on a variety of factors.

“Each of the selected campuses had strong sustainability commitments, research initiatives underway and the caliber of the faculty and the individuals supporting the research were very strong,” Wolff said.

Wolff said each of the selected proposals had a different focus. 

For example, the team from the University of Wisconsin will implement a UEV sign-out system for people in the university community, using their university IDs. The collected data, including engine performance, will not only be used for research purposes, but also for university-wide awareness of its energy consumption and carbon footprint.

Pitt’s research team, led by Dr. Ervin Sejdić, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, includes faculty, graduate students and IT staff from the Swanson School of Engineering and staff from CSSD. 

According to Sejdić, there were several reasons Pitt became interested in the project.

“First, they’re electric cars. We’ve got to start thinking about how we can change our cars, and this is one way,” Sejdić said. “Second, it’s ‘the Internet of Things.’ The cars allow us to communicate between different sensors. Lastly, we’d like to maximize our profits by minimizing our investments. Sustainability is a big issue for us as well.”

Because Pitt’s campus is in a rather hilly geographic location, Sejdić said the team will be able to test some of the car’s energy aspects while driving in certain situations and even test the physiological and behavioral characteristics of the driver. 

When the project is completed next summer, the data collected from the research will be shared with the public to review or use as the basis for their own research.

“An important goal of the project is to generate data that will lead to new kinds of research questions,” Stengel said. 

Members of the University community will be able to keep track of the project by following the #DriveGreenPitt hashtag on Twitter and Stengel said the team hopes that the UEVs themselves will visibly spread awareness of the project.

“We plan to make the UEVs a part of key campus events related to sustainability, research and Internet2 technology,” Stengel said.


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