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Car Chargers Get Smart

A new touchscreen charging station is programmable and can use input from both users and utilities to get better electricity prices.

Yesterday at the Plug In conference in San Jose, CA, technology company Ecotality and design firm Frog Design announced a new line of electric-vehicle chargers. The chargers, which will be rolled out in demonstration projects in 16 states with funding from the US Department of Energy, have a color touchscreen and are connected to the internet. A user can program the chargers to charge a vehicle by a certain time and when prices reach a certain level; the connectivity will also allow utilities to display messages and provide data to the charger about fluctuating electricity prices.

With its black and white color scheme and rounded edges, the Blink looks like it was designed by Apple. The cord-winding station below the touchscreen even resembles the clickwheel of a classic iPod. (Not surprising, since Frog famously created the look or “design language,” called Snow White, used by Apple for its computers from 1984 to 1990.) Frog representatives explained that the chargers are meant to look friendly and approachable. They’re also ready for co-branding–Starbucks or Best Buy might offer a free charge in their parking lot to get electric vehicle owners to spend money there, and could add their logo to the Blink on a skin. The company will offer a wall-mounted residential version and a free-standing version designed for parking lots.

Lee Slezak, a representative of the US Department of Energy vehicle technology program, and conference attendee, said Blink offers capabilities other chargers lack. “One thing we’ve been pushing for as we roll out charging infrastructure is to make sure it has the smallest possible impact on the grid.”

Enabling communication between the utilities and the consumer, as the blink does, will help both: the utility can offer lower rates when demand is lower and users can program the charger to take advantage of this.

This video shows how the Blink system works:

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