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This article is from the In-Depth Report Consumer Electronics: More Than Just Fun and Games

Charge 'Er Up: OnStar's New Mobile App Keeps Tabs on Chevy Volt Recharge System

Blackberry Storm, iPhone and Motorola Droid users will be able to control when their Volt charges with the help of this new smart-phone software
CES, Chevy, Volt, OnStar, iPhone, Droid, Blackberry



© SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN/LARRY GREENEMEIER

LAS VEGAS—With its much-anticipated Chevy Volt set to hit the streets by the end of the year, General Motors is beginning to provide a more detailed (although by no means complete) picture of life with an electric car. Focusing on the daily logistics of making sure your electric car has enough juice to get you from point A to point B, Chevy and GM subsidiary OnStar have now introduced a smart phone application to help drivers remotely manage the charging process. The announcement came here late Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The OnStar Mobile application, initially available for the Apple iPhone, Blackberry Storm and Motorola Droid, will let Chevy Volt owners perform a number of actions via their smart phones, including initiating the charging of their battery, unlocking the doors and starting the engine. The app will also provide Volt owners with information about their car battery's current level of charge and how many miles they can drive before the battery is fully depleted.

Once the car has begun recharging, OnStar Mobile will notify owners via text message when the process is complete or alert them if the process has been interrupted (for example, if there has been a power outage or someone has physically unplugged the car).

Volt owners will need to be able to control charging even when they are not in the vehicle, OnStar President Walt Dorfstatter said during a CES press briefing. This means that companies like Chevy and OnStar need to develop new ways of connecting drivers to their vehicles, he said, adding, "We believe the app will fundamentally change the way drivers interact with their cars, moving forward."

OnStar Mobile is available for a free download to iPhone and iPod Touch devices via Apple's App Store. Motorola Droid and Blackberry Storm users can download the app from OnStarMobileDemo.com.

Up to this point, GM has been relatively quiet about how it might use OnStar's in-car communication service with the Volt. In September Britta Gross, GM's manager of Hydrogen and Electrical Infrastructure Development, noted that electric vehicles will eventually need to be able to communicate directly with power utility companies to ensure these cars "don't make peak loads worse than they are today," but she said the company had not yet defined OnStar's role in this.

Ford, on the other hand, has already assured drivers that its SYNC in-car communications system is expected to play a big role in tying electric cars in with home owners' smart meters to determine a battery's power level, indicate how long it will take to fully recharge, and schedule when the process will begin. SYNC is expected to be one of the main topics of Ford CEO Alan Mulally's CES keynote Thursday morning.

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