NEXTCAR Performer Dr Francesco Borrelli from UC Berkeley with U.S Secretary Jennifer Granholm and ARPA-E Director Evelyn Wang at the 2023 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit.

What’s Next for NEXTCAR?

ARPA-E's NEXTCAR Program recently met for their Industry Day in Detroit to explore increased opportunities arising from the push towards electrification.

NEXTCAR was originally launched in 2016 to explore the development of technologies using connectivity and automation features found in high-end vehicles (e.g., adaptive cruise control) to reduce energy consumption of on-road, surface transportation. Since then, these technologies, along with the automotive market as a whole, have evolved with a greater appreciation for their potential in contributing to the decarbonization of transportation-related emissions.

During the original NEXTCAR Program, eleven teams developed and tested their technologies on a wide variety of vehicle (light-, medium- and heavy-duty) platforms and powertrains such as EV, PHEV, and MHEV, and consistently demonstrated an average energy savings of 20% on an individual vehicle basis and without additional hardware interventions. These results are significant in an industry where single digit percentage improvements are targeted.

NEXTCAR Phase II is now underway with the exploration of higher levels of automation and a focus on light-duty vehicles, the largest category of automotive emissions. The four Phase II teams from Ohio State University (OSU), Michigan Tech University (MTU), Southwest Research Institute (SWRI), and University of California-Berkeley (UCB) have been charged with the ambitious goal of increasing their average energy savings to 30%. Methods highlighted by each team to maximize energy savings gains in Phase II include the exploration of ECO arrival and departure along with auxiliary load optimization by OSU, operation mode optimization and vehicle following by MTU, the reduction of aggressive maneuvers through cooperative highway driving by SwRI, and the optimization of battery charging and parking using charger location and status along with state of charge prediction by UCB.

The teams are also beginning to identify commercial applications for their technologies. The UCB team, for example, spun out into a startup, WideSense, in 2019 and is now working with EV fleet owners to optimize operations through the use the algorithms they are developing.

ARPA-E is now also exploring the benefits of these technologies at the city level and their integration with smart infrastructure with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)-led AutonomIA project awarded through OPEN 2021. The AutonomIA platform will leverage vehicles with varied levels of autonomy, sensing capabilities, and connectivity to deliver operational recommendations derived from rigorous data analytics. It is being designed with a responsive architecture to cater to multiple objectives, including energy efficiency, emission reductions, and congestion mitigation​.

As we look to the future, one of the key takeaways from the recent NEXTCAR Annual Meeting/Industry Day held in Detroit was the opportunities for NEXTCAR technologies to play a critical role in the growing push toward vehicle electrification by providing much-needed range extension while also potentially reducing significant stress on the electric grid. Further benefits to vehicle fleet operations, in particular, include the reduction of fuel costs, which can make up most of their operating budgets. The NEXTCAR program is driving a sustainable revolution in the automotive industry, pioneering paths in the landscape of electrification, automation, and connectivity. It's a thrilling ride towards a greener, smarter tomorrow, where technology and sustainability steer us towards unprecedented horizons of energy efficiency and emissions reduction!