Want to prevent electric vehicle fires? Follow the data

'EV fires could be prevented if the data collected by original equipment manufacturers and battery makers were leveraged sufficiently'
Last Updated 20 June 2022, 06:23 IST
Credit: DH illustration
Credit: DH illustration

If you thought electric vehicle (EV) fires are unavoidable, think again.

EV fires could be prevented if the data collected by original equipment manufacturers and battery makers were leveraged sufficiently, analysts and industry insiders told DH.

While collecting data using Internet-enabled devices embedded in vehicles is not precisely a new practice, the applications of Internet of Things (IoT) have made data more critical in EVs, said Karan Makhija, founder and chief operating officer of IoT solutions provider Intellicar, which counts TVS and SUN Mobility as its customers.

“Data on voltage and temperature of each cell inside a battery can help OEMs and battery makers understand the health of a battery at a cell level and prevent fires,” said Makhija.

These IoT devices can transmit a range of data points including vehicle location as well as performance and health of its components on a real-time basis – also called telematics.

Fire accidents caused due to manufacturing issues could be avoided since symptoms of a likely intrinsic failure could be flagged by telematics as early as three months before such events happen, explained Ganesh Moorthi, CTO, Renon India – a lithium-ion battery-maker and a telematics system developer.

Data collected from the battery could also help in improving EV design.

“The multiple sensors attached to a battery can help detect gas built up in a battery pack and can help us improve the design of the product to rectify the flaw,” Moorthi said.

The abundant data points collected by various stakeholders could then be fed back into their systems to train the machine and make artificial intelligence take calculated steps to prevent an unfavourable event from happening in the future. The sensors installed in EVs by another IoT-services provider Intangles Lab collect data points such as battery pack temperature, active current flow and battery discharge rates.

“These models can track and alert against battery management systems anomalies in near real-time. In doing so, a significant share of battery hazards can be preempted prior to catastrophic failure,” said Aman Singh, Head of Analytics and Co-founder, Intangles Lab.

Then why haven’t OEMs been unable to prevent EV fires so far?

While battery health data could indeed help in maintaining the vehicle and battery packs, there was only so much an IoT device could do once a battery caught fire.

“Two essential pre-conditions that should not be ignored: Good engineering in battery pack design is the first and the second is integrating the battery pack with the vehicle systems well,” said Ranjita Ravi, co-founder of Orxa Energies, a high-performance electric bike-maker. “If these two conditions are met, situations like a thermal runaway (battery catching fire) can be greatly reduced.”

Deloitte India Director Jairaj also pointed out that the data alone could not prevent mishaps.

“The quantum of data (both size and number of data points) which can be shared/collected through telematics is limited due to the technology and would require a significant upgrade,” he said. Additionally, some stakeholders are sceptical of publicly sharing individual user data due to fear of losing their competitive advantage.

OEMs currently have no incentive to open their data to customers or other stakeholders, Intellicar’s Makhija said.

“It can open up the OEMs to massive liability,” he pointed out.

That said, there were ways one could anonymise, aggregate and share data, especially the ones tied to safety, to help the industry, Makhija said.

Aggregated data could be leveraged to predict failures more accurately.

“The usage pattern along with ambient conditions helps in understanding the extremities components will experience,” said Deloitte’s Jairaj.

This data could also help automakers put relevant preventative measures in place while designing the vehicle, he added. Some manufacturers agreed that the data collected from their EVs could help in product improvement and better prediction of vehicle component failures to take preemptive actions.

Ola Electric, which makes e-scooters, said it typically collected data on parameters including battery usage, torque and braking activities, helping them in keeping track of battery health and providing the best customer experience.

Fleet management companies have also used telematics to monitor their assets and give prior warnings to drivers in case of some failure.

“The embedded devices allow to almost create a digital replica of the vehicle in our systems, which in turn can be closely monitored, adding to the safety of chauffeurs, security of the vehicle and its maintenance,” said Yogender Verma, the chief technical officer of Carzonrent, which provides a chauffeur-driven cab service.

Some others said they used battery health data to avoid fire accidents in their fleet.

“We can also alert the driver if the battery temperature is going above a threshold or the charging is faulty. This will avoid most of the EV mishaps,” said Kaaman Agarwal, CTO, MetroRide.

(Published 19 June 2022, 18:29 IST)

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