Elecrical vehicle charging

2015 Human Factors Prize Winner

You know that sinking feeling you get when the low fuel light comes on in your car and you are driving down a rural highway in the middle of nowhere? That is range stress – the fear that your car doesn’t have the remaining range to reach the nearest energy source.

Range stress is one of the primary bottlenecks in the spread of battery powered electric cars. Many current models can go almost as far as gasoline powered cars, but if there are no battery stations around, that still doesn’t help. If the range of the battery is 300 miles but there are only public battery stations every 1000 miles . . .

Many solutions have appeared to address this problem. There are apps that you can use to search for commercial stations and for P2P solutions. I read of one that allows you to search for a generous person willing to let you plug in at their home – as long as you are nice about it. Bring a bottle of good scotch with you and you are golden (I made this last part up, but you get the idea).

My Take

The Human Factors Prize for Excellence in Research this year was awarded to a team of researchers from Technische Universität Chemnitz who studied range anxiety in electric vehicles.

The results underline the importance of the human
factors perspective to overcome range anxiety and enhance sustainability of electric mobility systems.
Application: Trustworthiness should be employed as a key benchmark variable in the design of range
estimation systems, and assistance systems should target increasing drivers’ adaptive capacity (i.e.,
resilience) to cope with critical range situations.

They ran a field study with 72 drivers who leased an electric car for three months. They looked for factors that reduced range stress, with the objective to find ways to increase acceptance of these vehicles in the broader economy.

As you would probably expect, people who ran into trouble during the trial had increasing range stress afterwards. Those that did not had reduced range stress. Good experience with the dashboard range indicator reduced stress, which is a good sign because we know how to design effective displays. People who are tolerant of low range situations (by personality I guess) also had lower range stress.

Your Turn

I would be interested to hear about your experiences with range stress, either with gas-powered vehicles or electric. Is the limited range/limited filling stations something that keeps you from going electric?

Image Credit: Frank Hebbert

2 thoughts on “2015 Human Factors Prize Winner”

  1. Marc,

    I believe range stress is one of the limiting factors for me. Since electric vehicles are relatively new, I am also curious as to the long term reliability/cost of ownership will compare to gas-powered vehicles.

    In regards to range stress, I live in a small, rural town in Texas, but commute about 50 miles one way to my office (whenever I’m not working from home or at a client’s location). I have a truck that has a 36 gallon fuel tank, and I have the ability to load up multiple fuel containers in the bed of my truck, if needed. This is especially important considering that there are parts of Texas, especially west Texas, that are desolate. The ability to carry extra, readily available fuel to power my truck relieves the range stress.

    Until electric vehicles have readily available “fuel”, and do not negatively impact the life of the batteries, I believe I will have range stress.

    Also, as an engineer concerned with sustainability, I wonder what type of environmental impact the increased batteries will have. Currently, I believe there is only one facility in the US that specializes in recycling lithium ion batteries, as compared to lead-based batteries. The lithium ion batteries appear to be gaining popularity, which may lead to increased end-of-life in landfills, which we would hope to avoid. Perhaps with greater demand for lithium ion batteries in the future, more companies will look into the efficacy of recycling these types of batteries. Great discussion.

  2. @James – I wonder if it would be a strategic move for Tesla to use its new battery factory to make spares that drivers like you could keep in the back of the car . . .

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