You could fill a pot much faster with two taps, you know. That might not sound like a great engineering insight that is revolutionizing transportation in America. But maybe this is the start of something.
That might not sound like a great engineering insight that is revolutionizing transportation in America. But maybe this is the start of something.
General Motors has filed a patent application with an incredibly simple idea, but one that illustrates the evolution of cars.
It’s an EV with two outlets.
Lasers, conveyor belts and tear gas: car manufacturers and their patents
First, a quick note on patents: automakers are among the most aggressive users of the US patent system. They regularly file patents that they may never use.
Tesla, no kidding, holds a patent for a laser windshield cleaning system. Toyota holds a patent for an in-vehicle scent system that can also deliver tear gas for self-defense. Ford holds a patent for a treadmill that brings items from the trunk to the front seat.
Even companies that think only of building cars hold patents for them. Google holds a patent for a hood sticky enough to immobilize a human being. This is a safety device – if you hit a pedestrian with your car, they will stick to the hood instead of bouncing off and taking a second round of injuries from hitting the road. But imagine washing it after a trip to Louisiana during bug season.
An idea doesn’t have to be good to get a patent. It just has to be new. And automakers regularly patent ideas that they never execute.
GM’s batteries are already two batteries
GM’s new generation of electric cars, like the GMC Hummer and Cadillac Lyriq, are built on a platform the automaker calls Ultium. Ultium is a unique skateboard-like unit of batteries, motors and suspension that fits under the passenger compartment of a car.
Engineers can scale it up or down to build vehicles as big as the Chevy Silverado EV and as small as (probably even smaller than) the Chevy Blazer EV. The design will underpin an entire generation of GM vehicles. It’s been successful enough that even Honda is considering using it for its first dedicated electric vehicle, the upcoming Honda Prologue.
The way GM increases the battery for larger vehicles is basically to wire two together. The Hummer and Silverado both use a two-layer battery. So why not charge them separately?
Some electric vehicles (EVs), such as Tesla products, use a 400-volt architecture. Some, like the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Kia EV6, use an 800-volt configuration. Electrical charging is complicated and not as simple as 800 volt batteries charge twice as fast as 400 volt batteries. But the 800-volt systems currently on the market charge faster than 400-volt electric vehicles.
What would be even faster? Use both.
GM’s patent would allow users to charge the entire battery from an 800-volt port, the entire battery from a 400-volt port, or half of it from one port of each. The ports are bidirectional, so they could also be used to power other electric vehicles or equipment in the field.
Electrical engineers are the new garage handymen
The patent may never become a working system. Many automaker patents never do. It could be just another drawing of a sticky cap.
But it illustrates something new in the automotive market.
Engineers have learned to tease as much internal combustion engine performance as possible over a century of tinkering and wacky testing with fire.
A pair of charging cords (and a driver using two charging stations at once while cars line up for their turn) may not be the innovation that makes electric vehicles easier to live with every day for Americans. But electrical engineers are the new creative thinkers who will reshape what our cars cost and do for us.