Is Qualcomm pitching a novel idea for the Formula E?Read More
With the Formula E Championship coming closer and closer (september 2014) it might be too soon to start wondering about the second season already. It does not stop some to consider future cities to host races such as Paris and New York. I personally found it odd that for example Paris, home of the FIA itself was not part of the line up for the first season.
Having been there a few times, of which one trip was to visit the FIA HQ, it becomes clear that there are a huge number of historical landmarks that would provide a stunning back drop. Also, most roads are wide (8 meter plus?) and a lack of speedbumps would make a Formula E Race possible.
“Paris is ready. A street race in the centre of Paris. We have been looking at every place in Paris, but there are really cool places where you have all the monuments in the background.” - Alejandro Agag
The other location that is mentioned is New York. Having a strong interest in electric vehicles to show off, they would make a good qualifier. Also some potentially stunning back drops can be found there as well.
As for which other cities are good candidates to host a race; I think there are plenty to pick from. I think it is more a matter for a city to provide an attractive proposition in a timely manner. It take a good race track, a proper link with electric vehicles, some good landmarks and a big name sponsor. Which city would you like to see added to the roster for 2015/2016 season?
The discussion surrounding electric vehicles has been about getting more wires out on the street for EVSE equipment, but slowly the trend is going for less wires and looking at wireless power transfer. The trend has come a long way since it first appeared at a TED in 2009.
Last week KAIST made some big splashes in the news again with their latest development. KAIST is now testing their wirelessly charged busses in an actual urban environment, in the South Korean city of Gumi. Previously test runs have been done at an amusement park and at KAIST's campus.
What is new about KAIST's project now is they are using wires instead of the conventional coils. Competitors have so far all used magnetic coils to transfer power from the surface of the road into the vehicle. Now KAIST can do the same, but with a set of cables. The main advantage is installation costs and time. The main benefits for cables has been explained to me about a year ago by professor Pavol Bauer from TU Delft; putting a large number of coils in the road requires you to break open a large area of road. Putting a cable in you can achieve by just milling a long slot to put the cable in; a lot cheaper and quicker!
- Can charge on the go
- No fiddling with cables at stops
- Can use smaller battery
- Lighter bus
- More room/capacity for passengers
- Cables are easier to install
- ables are cheaper to install
- Only 5-15% road surface required
- 85% transfer efficiency achieved
The concept of electric vehicles that can go on forever while being charged wirelessly is very appealing; instead of having to stop the race after the batteries are drained, you can drive a full Le Mans on electricity! It was to my amazement that back in 2011 the FIA had not fully considered inductive charging as an option to race with for their (then) upcoming Formula E Championship. I was even more delighted when I got the opportunity to come over to Paris and explain in person the pros and cons of such an inductive charged race to them. The inductive race did not make it (yet) for the Formula E Championship, but one team does look promising for this technology: Drayson Racing.
Drayson Racing was one of the first teams to sign on with the Formula E, they have made headlines with their World Record and they can charge their battery wirelessly with Qualcomm Halo technology. Their aim is to have a full inductive race.
While the Formula E is staged for city races and inductive technology is not that widely available yet, being able to get a race track ready by simply installing a few cables is much easier to accomplish than digging up the city and installing a lot of coils to get the same effect.
So far 8 cities have been selected to host a race in 2014 for the Formula E Championship. They are 8 great cities for sure, but I'm really hoping that one of those last 2 spots will feature a Dutch city still. Will be an exciting few months ahead of us to learn more if this will become reality, will keep you posted.
The global map with the 8 cities so far...
In the past few years there have been several moves in the Formula 1 Championship that have been aimed at reducing the carbon footprint of these races. There has been the introduction of KERS and now with the engine restrictions applied on it, the quest for fuel economy is on. The FIA has last year announced their plans to create a new championship, the Formula E, in which electric vehicles will compete. Not surprisingly after plans of EV Cup, the TTX GP (electric motorcycle racing) and the snow races at Val Thorens [??], the FIA has to catch up a bit. During my visit to the FIA headquarters in Paris I had an interesting discussion with the technical director, learning from their plans in more detail and providing the FIA with some missing links they had not considered yet.
The FIA, with its president Jean Todt
Last year the FIA has made the announcement at the Geneva Auto Convention (see video below) that they want to strengthen their innovation role for the automotive industry. In sports there is always a new edge to be gained. A lighter car, a more efficient drivetrain or recouping of energy that was lost otherwise. The role the FIA envisions is similar to the space industry, where under the extreme conditions new methods and ways have to be developed as conventional thinking falls short. It is therefore that the FIA want to organize the Formula E Championship, as most of the innovation currently in the automotive is happening around electric vehicles. Getting the best of both worlds so to say.
The FIA plan
The plan of the FIA as it was announced halfway 2011, was to organize the racing event as a sort of Urban/City marketing program. Races would be close to the public if they can be in city centers, promoting both the EV technology and the host. The format would allow for a race of about 15 minutes, due to the limitations in battery technology and a balance between speed/weight. After this session, there would be a break, allowing to recharge the batteries using for example fast charging or battery swaps. During the break the program allows for some other promotional activities to happen, manufacturers of EVs giving demonstrations, demos of other cars on the track, etc. after the break there would be another 15 minute session of the race.
During my discussions with the FIA I highlighted some of the problems I saw with their plans.
The battery swap is not something I see happening in the consumer car market soon, due to a too small adoption of the standard by the OEMs. Most car manufacturers have decided on their own battery format, having them change to a uniform battery form factor at this stage… I don’t think so. It is viable however in a racing environment, volumes of cars are small anyway and each team having their own recharged battery in the pit lane is not such a bad idea. In fact, this is how the DUT racing team from Delft operates their electric racer as well.
Battery swapping like Better Place - In a pitlane?
The fast charger approach seems more likely in my opinion, it is more in line with where the consumer market is heading to at the moment with fast charger coverage. Not only would it boost innovation in fast charging, but there is also the option to use current installed fast chargers in the city, or share the investment of the fast chargers between Formula E and the city. During a race the fast chargers would be for the race, else the chargers are for the city to use.
The only real problem I saw was in the limited duration of the actual race. Compared to the Formula 1, which takes about 1,5-2 hours to complete, this would be half an hour of actual racing, stretched a bit by some extra advertisements in a break. To be able to increase the duration of the race, either the cars would need more energy on board, making the cars heavier, or some way to get energy quicker. Or while they drive around the track.
Together with the TU Delft I have had an interesting discussion quite some time ago on a concept of the Inductrophy, a race format that is similar to the Solar Challenge in Australia, only focussed on electric vehicles using inductive charging while they race. Inductive charging is not a totally new concept; there are quite a few companies in the world who make these systems. They are all geared towards charging while the car is in a parking space or in the garage. For the longer term, they all anticipate roads that allow you to charge on the go, a great way to overcome range anxiety! In racing it also significantly reduces the battery size and more importantly, the battery weight. Less weight, equals more speed in racing, which adds to the fun/thrill to watch this sport.
The Lola-Drayson B12/69EV - It also uses inductive charging technology to top up - Video
Having contacted the FIA with my proposal on an inductive race, some weeks later I got a call from the technical director telling me he was interested to hear more. Inductive charging was a technology he was not that familiar with, especially related to cars. So after being invited over to Paris i’ve provided a full update on this technology and its potential for the racing industry. Having shared our visions on how electric racing will evolve and what it will look like, both the FIA and I have learned a lot.
The Formula E in 2013
Given that the FIA prefers to run the races in an urban environment, as part of city marketing, it was found not feasible now to install an inductive charged race track in an urban environment. Given the cost of installation at the moment, it might also be better to wait as well for prices to drop. The added advantage is clear, a potentially unlimited race can rival even the Le Mans. It is more likely that in 2013 they will go for fast charging instead, an option which has the bonus of providing fast chargers to the city hosting the event as well (though probably the fast chargers are unlikely to be a gift from the FIA.
I would still love to see the Formula E start as I’m sure it will be a big success for innovation in the automotive industry. Lighter cars that drive farther and faster, count me in!