Within the next two years, college students in the U.S. and Canada and commuters in large cities could be driving electric scooters partially designed at Kettering University.
Dr. Kevin Bai, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team of researchers, Allan Taylor (research engineer), Fei Yang (research engineer), Chenguang Jiang (graduate research assistant), Chen Duan (graduate research assistant) and Trifon Tsekov (campus co-op) in the Advanced Power Electronics Lab (APEL) at Kettering are currently working under contract with Mahindra Genze, an international company specializing in electric and green technology products, to develop battery management and motor drive systems for electric scooters.
“We’ve done work at the device level within vehicle systems for some time now,” Bai said. “This project was a fantastic opportunity for us to integrate all of the device-level components into an entire system. I’ve always wanted to try an entire vehicle -- something that integrates the battery charger, battery management system, battery pack and motor control and this project will allow that.”
This is not the first time electric vehicle battery research has been conducted in APEL, but it will be the first time Bai, his students and the lab’s researchers will get to develop an entire vehicle system.
Bai and his team began working on the project in November, 2012. There is not a specific timeframe for completing it, but Bai noted that this will be a long-term project with several phases. There are currently five researchers and graduate students working on the project, including two research engineers, one post-doctoral, one campus co-op and another two graduate students.
Bai said the first phase should be completed by the end of May, which will include the first of two prototypes. From May 2013, Bai and his team began to test the whole vehicle. At that point, they’ll be able to test how many miles the battery can sustain on the road and how the battery management system works in practice, then they can optimize and improve on that prototype.
While Kettering works on the power system for the scooters, Mahindra’s mechanical engineers will provide the design of the scooters. Once completed, the vision for the scooters is to provide an electric vehicle that allows students or big city commuters to travel to and from school or work, remove their battery and plug it into a wall outlet to recharge it, and then commute home.
“Our idea is at home you charge your scooter, then you drive to your office or school,” Bai said. “You can take the battery out, charge it with a regular outlet then drive home. No extra charging infrastructure is needed. The battery should be fully charged after day of work or school is over.”
Bai said these scooter systems are a perfect opportunity for Kettering’s researches to get a full vehicle experience. Although his lab has done tremendous amount of work on hybrid cars in the past, because of the requirements of size, cost and reliability, it would still be difficult for most universities to design an entire system like a car. The scooters allow for a small enough scale to give students that experience.
“Several months ago I was at an SAE conference, and the electrical engineering professors at most universities there were looking for this kind of opportunity,” Bai said. “Mahindra Genze received several proposals from other schools to do this project, but thought Kettering students had strong hands-on capability and was impressed by what APEL has done related to electric vehicles in the past. That gave them confidence we could do it.”