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Pitt to help put electric car on information highway

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 6:32 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Ervin Sejdic´ is the principal investigator on a research project involving the use of electric vehicles on campus.

Data collected from tiny electric vehicles being tested at the University of Pittsburgh may help in the development of a big idea.

Pitt researchers will start testing Innova Dash cars, made by Innova UEV, on campus this summer.

The yearlong project is a collaboration among Pitt; Internet2, a global, advanced technology research community; and Innova UEV, an electric car manufacturer based in the Chicago suburbs.

A key goal of the project, officials said, is to explore the Internet of Everything, as seen in Cisco commercials, a still-developing concept of connecting all devices with an on-off switch to the Internet and each other. The Dash, for example, will simultaneously send data back to university researchers without prompting, which could yield data that will help the Internet evolve, said principal investigator Ervin Sejdic, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering in Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering.

“These studies could yield important advancements in everything from improved battery technology to fully autonomous vehicles,” said Aaron Foster, a spokesman for Innova UEV.

The company produces vehicles for research purposes, but it plans to debut a commercial model in 2015.

Internet2 hosted a research competition, and selected Pitt, Colorado State University, the University of Wisconsin and University of Washington to test the cars, spokesman Todd Sedmak said.

“What they really wanted to see is, if they give a bunch of cars to various universities, what the students and faculty at these universities will come up with,” Sejdic said.

Pitt was selected because of research it has conducted at its Center for Energy, which educates undergraduates and graduate students in energy-related fields, Foster said.

“We were in a pretty strong position, and we had a good base to build on,” Pitt project manager Brian Stengel said. “We're looking forward to getting these vehicles on campus and putting them through their paces.”

Innova UEV will provide each university with four Innova Dash vehicles and a modest stipend for research costs, Stengel said. The vehicles are 100 percent electric and can provide feedback about road and vehicle conditions, Foster said.

Two cars will go to the engineering school and one each to computing services and systems development and parking, transportation and services. Each department will use the cars for different purposes, ranging from normal, everyday use to special tests that measure electrical consumption or monitor driving behavior.

“If you hook up a bunch of sensors to the drivers, you can measure physiological indicators like heart rate and sweat,” Sejdic said. “When a driver is stressed, do they press the gas pedal more or are they braking more?”

Sejdic said results will be shared among the schools and could be used by commercial car manufacturers to improve their products. Pitt could even use the results to its benefit, he said.

“We'll be sharing the usage patterns with several offices on campus, sharing info as to how much (the cars) are used and when, as well as typical draws from outlets and how long it takes to charge,” Stengel said. “That information ... could help the campus decrease its carbon footprint.”

Corinne Kennedy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7823 or ckennedy@tribweb.com.

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