Atlanta is known for its traffic. Well, its traffic jams to be exact. Between rush hour, college kids and tourists, no one really knows what lane to be in. So, when Dusty Embrey, part of the Innovation Team at AEgis Technologies and the brain behind the Electrip app, noticed a car stopped on the interstate going through downtown Atlanta, he knew it would be trouble.
This wasn’t just any car, though. It was a Nissan Leaf, an electric car, that had run out of battery power in the middle of the interstate. As an“EV enthusiast,” someone who follows the technology surrounding electric vehicles, Dusty was immediately sympathetic to the stranded motorists because he knew one day that could be him stranded in the middle of the road, waiting on a tow truck to come pick up his electric car.
At the time, Dusty was on the verge of deciding to upgrade his Toyota Prius hybrid to a fully electric vehicle, specifically a Tesla. Naysayers were warning Dusty of this exact problem. How could he go on a road trip, or even a full day of running errands, if he only had an 85-mile range?
For Dusty, the stopped car showcased part of a bigger problem surrounding electric vehicles — the limited range makes it hard to gauge how far you can get on a single charge. It’s called “range anxiety,” and it makes quite a bit of sense in places like Huntsville, where charging stations are few and far between.
“I knew that electric cars were getting pretty big — just this past year they sold more than 200,000 in the U.S. alone and over a million worldwide — but there’s still some drawbacks to electric vehicles, mostly range anxiety,” Dusty said. “The goal of this app was to alleviate that.”
Like most new technologies, there are bugs in the first few versions of electric cars — remember the “A?” iPhone update fiasco a while back? The same is true with cars. While auto makers are making great strides in environmentally friendly transportation, they still have a long way to go before they can keep up with gas-powered cars.
If Dusty wanted to make sure he could buy an electric car without fear of running out of power, he would have to fix the problem himself. It would take a while to come to fruition, but that one stopped electric car would prompt Dusty to find a cure for range anxiety once and for all.
Dusty soon got the chance to put his problem-solving skills to work. The Innovation Team at AEgis was looking for other industries to branch out into, so naturally, Dusty thought of the electric cars he’d been eyeing for some time.
Typically, AEgis focuses on military and government-based products, things like VAMPIRE or Monarch. This time they were brainstorming ways to use modeling and simulation in other sectors like transportation and energy conservation.
Dusty, a software engineer who is excited about the new technology behind electric cars, came up with the idea for Electrip, an app that would track every charging station between two points so you would know where and when to stop and re-charge your car.
In January 2015, he pitched the idea to the AEgis Innovation team. Once he got the go-ahead, Dusty and another employee started working on the app during their off hours before on-boarding their coworkers to help them.
Dusty’s work paid off. He was named Intrapreneur of the Year by the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama for his work on Electrip.
“An intrapreneur — it’s kind of like an entrepreneur, but it’s someone innovating a new product within a company rather than starting up a new company,” Dusty said.
There were already apps and websites developed to tell drivers where charging stations were, but they were specific to the types of cars. For example, Tesla drivers would only know where Tesla charging stations were.
Electrip is different in that it will show every charging station in addition to a turn-by-turn GPS, trip planning, and a rating system for charging stations. If you find one to be in a scary part of town, you can give other drivers a heads up so they know to avoid those stations.
On top of that, Electric calculates your range depending on driving conditions and your type of car. Weather and speed also cause electric car ranges to differ. Electrip takes these into account and helps drivers know exactly how far they can get on their current charge, Dusty said.
“You put in where you are, where you’re going and what your current range is and if you’re using your air conditioner or heat, because those can affect it, and it will find the route for you. It will calculate the speed limits of that route, and it will optimize telling you the best places for you to stop and charge,” Dusty said.
Dusty has been on the waiting list for his new Tesla for two years now, with his expected delivery date sometime early this year. His passion for improving on the technology is just beginning, though.
“I believe that it’s the future of motor vehicles,” Dusty said. “If you look at any chart, the growth is skyrocketing about 25 percent year over year. The cars are, a lot of times, safer because they don’t have the gas engine, (so) they can have a bigger crumple zone in the front of the car. They have the battery underneath, which makes it really hard for them to roll over. They have faster acceleration because of the instant torque that an electric motor gives you. You don’t have to stop for gas. You don’t have to do oil changes.”
Electrip is available as a beta version on Android with an iOS version coming soon. You can find out more about the app here.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Dusty driving his new Tesla around Huntsville in the coming months. And the next time you see an electric car stopped on the highway, mention Electrip to the driver and save them from future range anxiety.
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