Carnegie Mellon To Help Convert Cars From Gas to Electric (With Video)

Mechanics, students and anyone interested in converting vehicles from gas to electric power are invited to look under the hood of the ChargeCar Project's electric test bed vehicle during an open house from 4 to 6 p.m., Friday March 26 at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute.

The all-electric test bed vehicle, a converted 2006 Scion xB, will be on display in the Planetary Robotics Center high bay on the first floor of the Gates and Hillman centers, 4902 Forbes Ave. Talks aimed at students and community members who would like to be involved in future conversions will begin at 4:30 p.m.

"With the ChargeCar Project, we intend to show that gas-powered cars can be converted successfully into electrically powered commuter vehicles and to develop a network of local mechanics who can perform these conversions," said Illah Nourbakhsh, associate professor of robotics. "We're ready to take the next step in this effort and are looking for mechanics and student researchers who are eager to take that step with us."

This spring, Nourbakhsh and program manager Gregg Podnar, co-directors of the ChargeCar Project, will be converting a second car, which will serve as a prototype for subsequent conversions. By involving some local mechanics in this conversion, they plan to begin the process of moving the location of future conversions from the campus to commercial garages in the Pittsburgh area.

"We eventually will be referring Pittsburgh residents who want electric vehicles to a network of local mechanics who are trained to convert several popular models of small cars," Podnar said. "But first we will need help from mechanics, students and others who share our vision and are willing to share their talents with us as we create our prototype. We hope to recruit some of those people at our upcoming open house."

Key to the project is a vehicle architecture called smart power management, which uses artificial intelligence to manage the flow of power between conventional electric car batteries and a device called a supercapacitor. Supercapacitors are capacitors with unusually high power density and have typically been used to start locomotives, tanks and diesel trucks. Because it can store and rapidly release large amounts of electrical power, a supercapacitor can serve as a buffer between the battery pack and the vehicle's electric motors, improving the vehicle's responsiveness while reducing the charge/discharge cycling that shortens battery life.

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