Thursday, September 30, 2010

$20,000 EVTV Dream Build Giveaway Contest

We've been wrangling over chargers and controllers for weeks. But I'll delay no further. We are going to announce a contest for $20,000 worth of EV components that we believe will be the most popular promotion we've ever done.

I hear constantly from people with great ideas for an electric vehicle, but who are very hesitant to commit to the resources to actually build it. Our mission, as you know, is to try to inspire ALL of you to go to the garage and build an electric vehicle. As more of you do so, the world will move rather dramatically in your direction. This I know.

But to kick off our attempt to gain sponsors for the EVTV show, we are going to launch a contest for $20,000 worth of EV components. We think this will be a win/win/win in a lot of directions.

First, our viewers will have a chance at a truly deluxe pile of EV components to build the dream car they've thought about.

For our sponsors, it will give them six months of continous exposure as sponsors of the contest and build sales of their products at a trivial cost.

For us, it will do several things.

1. It should provide a bit of a boost in viewership.

2. It lets us survey our viewers to find out more about them, and more importantly how they think we could do better.

3. It allows us to demonstrate the power of focused targeted advertising to some vendors who are not experienced in this area.

So we think it will be great for the sponsoring vendors, great for us, and really great for ONE of you. But hopefully it will be fun for the rest and allow you a way to provide us with some useful feedback on the show, and show your support for there being more of them.

Currently, we are contributing 50 China Aviation Lithium Battery Company 180AH cells and the shipping of the pile to the eventual winner. This pack should do 165v and about 30kWh with a constant output of 720 amps.

Our sponsors will make a modest financial contribution toward that and the product. Netgain has already kicked in with a brand new Warp9 motor of the latest build with new style brushes good to 192v, a new fan casting design for improved air flow, new larger 1/2 inch terminals, and some 23 other minor design improvements.

Netgain will get a 1 minute commercial on EVTV for the entire six months of the contest, and of course be featured in the weekly promo for the contest. AFTER the contest they'll be featured as we follow the build.

We ARE going to include a charger and a controller as well. We just haven't worked out which ones yet. As you know, I have a couple of Zillas on hand, but I'd rather a controller and charger that are new to the market and that anyone could actually purchase. Zilla's "production" status remains a mystery to me generally.

But I've decided not to hold up the contest any further. We've actually been planning this for about 6 weeks and the anticipation is too much for me.

The survey form is quite lengthy. That's what its all about.

The plan at the moment is to select 10 entries and gather further information from them on their proposed build. We'll then post them and allow our viewers to vote on who should get the pile of components kind of after the fashion of America's Got Talent, although I'm never sure they do.

Of course, the real secret is that we only have about 11 viewers, so the odds of being a finalist are pretty good.

Above all, have fun with it.

Jack Rickard

Sunday, September 26, 2010

2008 Cadillac Escalade Electric Drive Conversion - The ElEscalade

This week we formally announce a project I've alluded to in the past - the conversion of a 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT pickup truck to electric drive.

From the get go, we're going to do this a little differently from what you might expect.

Our first choice is drive train and we're going a little different direction. Our regenerative braking experiments were less than persuasive to me that this is an absolute requirement for an electric car. We would estimate the finished weight of this vehicle to curb at 7200-7400 lbs if we include sufficient battery power to move this vehicle to a useful range.

Moving that amount of mass is non-trivial. We've looked at a number of larger vehicle projects with 150 to 200 kw drive trains and I'm underwhelmed. The Tesla has a 200 kw system in 2800 lbs.

While we do not need to accelerate to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, my sense is we need a Tim Allen approach with more raw power.

When it comes to raw torque, AC induction motors simply do not have the muscle per mass that a series DC motor has. You are "inducing" a current, and subsequently a field, in the rotor by proximity. It eliminates the brushes and commutator, but it simply does not produce the torque that a series DC motor does.

Permanent magnet motors are indeed interesting. The dirty little secret there is that the permanent magnets are not very permanent, and they become very non-permanent when exposed to heat. Heat is our pernicious and persistent problem area.

Series DC motors have the current flowing through both the stator and rotor. This gives each element a field of proportional power, and the torque developed is simply irresistible.

We've asked Jim Husted of Jimerico to do a special heavy duty build of two Netgain Warp 9's on a single shaft, and mate it to our transmission.

The transmission is the second rather unusual choice. The Escalade has a fascinating transmission in it already - a 6 speed automatic termed a 6L80E coupled to an All Wheel Drive unit. The 6L80E is very strong, and has the unusual characteristic of having manual shift built into the tranmission controller, which is contained within the transmission. This allows you to manually shift this automatic transmission with a little up/down arrow button on the shift lever.

Unfortunately, it really needs the engine ECU to do all this, and to handle torque converter lockup. We're removing the engine. We have very limited and not very successful experience fakijng signals from an ECU, and apparently NO ONE makes a stand alone controller for the 6L80E as yet.

We did hear quite a bit from our viewers on this and Tom ALvarey keyed us to the problems with the 6L80E. At his suggestion, we looked at the LENCO racing transmission series. In fact we contacted them and found them curiously uncooperative in this project.

Matthew Hauber, originally from Grand Junction Colorado was out in San Diego and had worked at a transmission rebuild shop for some time. He e-mailed us with some suggestions that became increasingly, and impressively detailed. They centered on a company from Ashland Mississippi called TCI and their 6X transmission. This is a 4L80E, a four speed GM transmission to which they have added a third control solenoid to activate overdrive clutches for the first two gears - effectively a six speed transmission. They also use some hardened parts and best of all, they have their own controller which is quite programmable. The net result is a transmission that almost bolts on in place of the 6L80E, has paddle shift manual control, and which can run entirely without an ECU including torque converter lockup.

This will give us enormous leverage, in fact torque multiplication, with a soft fluid drive that allows us to start the motors from 500 rpm instead of from stall. I think this is the way to initiate motion in a 7200 lb vehicle.

It still requires a lot of power. WE are going to try a pair of EVnetics Soliton1 controllers in this project - 1 controller per motor. No series/parallels switching. We are going to individually drive the two motors. This will let us idle on one motor at 500 rpm and go to both motors in tandem on acceleration. EVnetics has experimented with, and included an "idle" range for automatic transmissions and is the only controller maker we know of to do this. That's not precisely correct actually. The Curtis 1238 does indeed have a "creep" mode that effectively does the same thing.

In this way, we can apply up to 1000 amps at up to 192v to EACH motor. We're actually going to do a pack voltage somewhere around 180v. So with two controllers and two motors, we could in theory generate 360kW into this system. Netgain 9;s are probably not going to do that very long. But if we do NOT start them at stall, but rather from 500 rpm, we buffer it with the slip in the torque converter, and rather quickly get them up to our lockup RPM of 1900, I THINK they'll do it for the 4 or 5 seconds necessary to get this vehicle firmly in motion. At that point, the power requirements should drop dramatically to continue acceleration.

That in turn requires a power pack that can deliver 180v at 2000 amps. We have not made final battery selection at this point, but if we DID parallel two strings of 52 CALB 180AH cells, they are ostensibly capable of 4C continuous or 1440 amps and of course 12C briefly.

To my mind, frankly, this sounds like the perfect storm - a superb opportunity to actually cause a lithium ion iron phosphate battery to explode. And as we all know by now, I DO like melting down batteries. But I prefer to do it in a controlled shop environment, not on the road.

So we are currently constructing a capacitor module of 72 Maxwell 3000F Ultracaps for a total pack of 42.66 farads and 194.4 volts. We are probably NOT going to encumber this with the byzantine trail of boost circuits so much the darling of the cap crowd. Rather, we are just going to parallel this pack with the cells. In this way, they will buffer our batteries, and should be able to produce the 2000 amps for about 4.5 seconds.

I've studied about six different papers on the use of capacitors to extend the LIFE of batteries, and I'm convinced that this buffer pack will extend the life of our battery pack to somewhere between 3 and 4 times their normal life span. And we'll essentially negate the inherent voltage sag, in this case about 15-20% pack voltage, for a brief period.

The result should be dramatic improvement in acceleration, and dramatic improvement in battery life.

Unfortunately, it probably will NOT result in any extension in range. This is why capacitors never quite make the cut. This pack will cost just over $10,000 to construct, and will weigh over 100 lbs, and will be three feet long and 20 inches wide. The Elescalade will be the first vehicle we've done large enough to even carry a cap bank. For the same weight and cost, we could do another 40 miles of range. In this case, we'll forego that in favor of life extension of our 60kWh battery pack, and to feed our Solitons to their maximum.

Yes, I know the Solitons can be configured to do 1400 amps. We won't. The 1000 amp limit is there to protect the 1400 amp rated IGBTs. We WILL have a pretty serious liquid cooling system for the controllers, and indeed I'm planning a kind of monster blower system for the motors. But we want this system to last for a half million miles, and keeping that pad is an important element to do that.

I love the Escalade. And many Anmerican drivers just feel safer and more comfortable in a larger car. Our mission is to prove you can have all that, give up nothing, and still eliminate the gasoline and the emissions - and drive TOTALLY electric.

Could we go further with a hybrid? We don't do hybrids. We do electric cars. It's a line we don't cross. No compromises. If you find yourself at a gasoline station pumping gas into your car, you are NOT driving an electric car. Period. That's your first clue.

We think this will be a fun project. We think we'll learn a lot. And we're going to share it all, including the mistakes, quite publicly. Please do join us.

Jack Rickard

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


A lot of neat things happening with Video.  I saw this coming back in 1996 but particularly called it two years ago.  Traditionally print magazine publishers, I saw video as the next "disruptive" publishing technology.

It's not there yet.  The Canon Vixia cameras have made it where you really can shoot HD video in a way just not feasible before, and at a remarkable drop in cost.  The really not very good and much larger Sony HD cams we were using initially were $5000, hard to log the video off, didn't REALLY do HD, and of course were huge.  The Canon's have gotten so good you can shoot 5 or 6 hours on HD on a single battery and logging it off onto the computer is trivial.

Final Cut Pro is our editing suite.  I know six or eight ways to crash it every time.  No real bug reporting methods.  They don't really want to hear it.  And it takes 16 or 18 hours to render some of these videos using a 12 processor Mac Pro with 4GB fiber drives.  But for the first time, you can edit video fairly cogently on a PC and it WILL complete the render process 9 times out of 10.

Bandwidth growth is a little slower although it seems the Cable Television networks are about the only ones that agree with me that Cable and Broadcast business models are on the verge of collapse.  They are scrambling for a foothold as Internet  Service Provider and have correctly determined that an order of magnitude higher data rate is the way to shut the telcos out of the deal.

In Chatanooga Tennessee of all places, they are installing 1 GB Internet to the home.  Bandwidth is happening slowly but surely.

We have used a player called JWPlayer from Longtail Video to play flash videos.  You may not be aware of it, but when you view EVTV videos, you are actually downloading them not from our two page little web site on the Apple server, but from Amazon.coms Cloudnet computer network.  This is the footprint, and the videos are stored there.  More importantly, this allows you to download the video from the server closest to you, whether that's in Tokyo or Oslo.  It not only eliminates the scaling problem, but it dramatically enhances performance worldwide.

JWPlayer was actually the player used by YouTube originally.  The source code is available, and YouTube has since modified it for their own use (without actually contributing the changes back to the community - what creeps).   The player has a LOT of features, many more than we use.  But I've found it quirky and error prone and very difficult to troubleshoot.  Often, with minor errors it just does nothing, with no indication as to what the problem is.  And of course, it behaves differently on each computing platform.

The holy grail is to do away with the player entirely.  A group has been working for several years on extending HTML with Version 5.   This version will include, among other things, a much simplified VIDEO tag and standardizes on H.264 video compression.  I don't know why there are still sour grapes yoyos continuing this debate.  H.264 was inevitably the lingua franca of video even before it was officially released.  

In any event, HTML5 works quite well with the Apple iPhone and iPad and we've been struggling to deal with that.  Safari has HTML5 built into it already.  Google Chrome has a badly mangled version of itsorta kinda working. Firefox, darling of the LInux crowd, has NOT supported it in that H.264 ultimately is a patented technology and the whole Linux Religious Left are pathologically against anyone owning anything.  This religious fervor has basically doomed Firefox, one of the hard chargers in the move to unseat Internet Explorer, to irrelevance and ultimately a dwindling future and obsolescence.

That all moved one step closer today as Microsoft released the beta of Internet Explorer 9.  I haven't tried it yet.  It REQUIRES Vista to run I'm told so the Windows XP survivors will have one more screw turned in the relentless Redmond pressure to upgrade.  But I'm told it DOES rather prominently support HTML5 Video.

There's a few months of cleanup, but that basically tells the tale and HTML5 is the new playerless future of online video.  We tried Longtail Videos hopelessly unconfigurable 5.3 beta kludge, but it just doesn't work.

So we're putting up an entire alternate page set for HTML5 users.  This causes us to give up a few features we weren't using much anyway.    But it works well with iPhone and iPad.  We've basically put our low res version in the box for viewing online.  Those who want the full high resolution HD experience, can click the TITLES of the videos and the larger file will start downloading.

So feel free to try the new pages.  A link on the main page simply takes you to the alternate main page, which also leads to the alternate Weekly Archives page.  If it doesn't work out for you, sipmly go back to the normal MAIN page.

We'll support both formats for a brief period.  But the handwriting is on the wall and it spells out HTML5.

Get over it.

Jack Rickard

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Day with George Hamstra of Netgain Motors

We had a bit of a visit this week from George Hamstra of Netgain Motors, and took advantage of the visit to interview him on camera - mostly about earlier careers and how he got started with electric vehicles and Netgain Motors. Netgain's Warp 9 is inarguably the workhorse among the conversion community and he continues to innovate and improve on this motor.

A Tequila powered interview, George talked about some of the 26 improvements he's made to the latest build, going on now. These include a new fan blade design to run the motor cooler with a port for an optical RPM pickup. It also features some new brushes good up to about 192v. The previous recommendation was 170v on this popular line of DC series motors. Oh, and 1/2 inch terminals.

The Tequila flowed both directions and I wound up spilling the beans on a couple of our "sekert projeks". The one most likely to cause a stir is the $20,000 contest giveaway. George has signed on as motor sponsor for this event, though we continue to discuss 9 inch or 11 inch motors. We're still designing this event, ergo the lack of an announcement. Current thinking is that we will have an extensive questionaire entry form. From the entrants, we will select 10 and present them online for a popular vote. The winning "Dream Build" project will receive a motor, controller, full set of LiFePo4 batteries, and a charger. So far we have Elite Power Solutions as the battery sponsor and Netgain Motors for the motor. Still to select, charger and controller.

We are also going to convert my 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT. This vehicle has all the room in the world. We're going to fit it with a massive 67kWh battery pack and TWO Netgain Warp 9 motors with a special automatic transmission. It will also feature a huge capacitor bank made up of Maxwell 3000F Supercaps. George and I spent a good part of the day talking about how to wire up two motors and two controllers and he has a method supposedly far superior to any you've heard about. HE's also actively campaigning for an active hybrid cap/bat pack using a DC-DC converter. No problem George. I just have to figure out how to build a 1600 amp buck/boost circuit with a2/0 gage cable coil and a half dozen 400 amp IGBTs. I can do that. I think.

It's shaping up as the impossible to complete and totally impossible for anyone to fund EV conversion. Don't try this at home. Our goals? 1000 mile range and 723 mph.

That's what Tequila does to me.


Jack Rickard