Reva Revs Phone-Controlled Charging for Electric Cars

Smartphones and electric cars make a handsome high-tech couple, and this morning Reva threw a new smartphone-EV idea into the mix: The India-based manufacturer of the G-Wiz electric city car has announced plans to unveil at the upcoming Frankfurt Motor Show an “instant remote recharge” system. Dubbed “REVive,” the system is set to roll out in the 2010 Reva NXR four-seater and 2011 NXG two-seater that Reva plans to debut at the event next week, and the telematics technology is meant to serve as “an invisible reserve fuel tank.”
Modeling vehicle systems after smartphones like Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone, including leveraging built-in GPS, an intuitive user interface, or a set of web-connected applications to let drivers manage charging and maximize efficiency, could help make the vehicles more convenient for many drivers and potentially encourage more widespread adoption. Plug-in vehicles are also increasingly being designed to connect with the phone itself, too, providing certain monitoring and management tools to drivers through their smartphone.

Reva is hardly alone in eyeing the cell phone — this morning’s release comes on the heels of Nissan’s (s NSANY) announcement that it plans to launch an iPhone app that will let drivers check battery charge levels, program charge times, and activate or stop charging for the 2010 LEAF electric sedan from their phone when the vehicle is plugged in. But Reva’s scheme seems to go beyond a remote on-off switch for plugged-in vehicles. Rather, the Draper Fisher Jurvetson-backed automaker says drivers will be able to get a boost from that “invisible” reserve by sending a text message or calling Reva.
Reva isn’t providing full details on the REVive system just yet, and without more information, it sounds a bit like vaporware. The company just calls it “a technology unique to REVA that addresses ‘range anxiety’…The customer just has to telephone or SMS REVA for an instant remote recharge should they run out of charge.” Popular Science speculates that the company may be working on wireless, or “inductive,” charging.
The Palm Pre, electric toothbrushes and artificial hearts employ this kind of technology — using electromagnetic fields to charge devices without a plug. Nissan told the UK’s Guardian about ambitions to eventually have inductive charging for its electric models.
Wireless induction, however, has yet to make the leap from juicing up small, handheld electronics, to recharging electric cars at commercial scale. Nissan said in July it still has no idea on how much it would cost, or how fast the battery could be recharged remotely. If Reva’s planned REVive system involves inductive charging, we wouldn’t expect it to roll out en masse anytime soon.
Reva may have a different tech in the works, such as a backup battery pack of some sort that only kicks in when it’s needed with a command from the driver, a more basic navigation and battery monitoring system for directing drivers to charge points within the vehicle’s range, or even a manual battery deliver-and-swap service, which drivers could call when they’ve run out of charge — similar to the roadside assistance offered, along with other services, through General Motors’ (s GM) OnStar system. (For in-depth looks at how OnStar could be a key to the unlocking a new GM, and how these kinds of of vehicle intelligence systems could be a training ground for electric vehicle infrastructure, check out our subscription research service GigaOM Pro.) As for what Reva has in the works, we’ll have to wait for Frankfurt to find out.