Electric cars should stream TV when they are fast-charging


The question every electric car buyer asks is how convenient charging will be, and how much will the range limit my travel - known as "range anxiety."

Deserted outlet malls aren't really exciting places to spend some quality time

Once cars get over about 200 miles of range, they tend to eliminate most such anxiety for drives in an urban area. Fast charging, such as Tesla superchargers, fills in the gap for road trips or days with extremely high amounts of driving. In normal use, it's less work and time to plug the car in each night than it is to visit a gas station and fill up once or twice a week the way gasoline drivers do.

Supercharging still takes more time. People tend to spend at least 20 minutes, which can gain them about as much as 120 miles of extra range, though they often spend longer if not in a hurry or on a long trip. Here, it loses to the gasoline fill-up, in that the fill-up only takes about 3 minutes and you usually don't have to go very far out of your way for one, unless you are nuts about price. So people want an activity when supercharging. If it's meal time, there is usually somewhere to eat at the charging stations -- though sometimes the selection can be quite limited, and you usually want a fast meal, not a lingering sit-down restaurant. What shopping there is can be quite variable.

The answer for many is to stare at your phone, where you can always entertain yourself, and we probably do too much of that as it is. Or to read a book (probably on your phone.)

In my house we are "cord cutters" meaning we watch all our TV over the internet. Sites like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu replace cable TV. So a good thing to do is to watch the TV we already were going to watch while waiting for the charge. And you can do this on your phone just fine, though it's a very small screen. Last night, charging in the Tesla, I put the audio from the phone onto the car speakers via Bluetooth -- good audio, but out of sync with the video. There are also questions of bandwidth in some places, and bandwidth cost.

The Tesla has a big screen right in the dashboard. In fact, it is the dashboard. Many cars have screens, though some not so large. So it would be sweet to be able to watch these cord-cutting video services on that screen, while charging. If it's TV we were already going to watch, it makes the charging take no real time out of the day. A decent sized screen, a comfortable chair and good speakers -- it's most of what you need.

There are rules in several states about having a screen which can play video in view of the driver, which can interfere with this. In a sane world, those rules should not prohibit video in a car that's parked or charging. Indeed, many of the laws do only prohibit use while driving, but others say no screen that can show TV can be visible to the driver. This allows those screens in the back seat on the headrests, but strict rules in one state sometimes limit what OEMs will put in cars.

Nobody's tried to get around these rules because normally, the car is hardly the sort of place you want to watch TV in when parked.

Without such rules, Tesla should let you watch YouTube, Netflix and the rest when parked, and certainly when charging. In fact, they should encourage it, as a way to make charging less of a burden. To go further, they should try to get apps for Netflix and Amazon prime that, like the phone versions, can pre-download your chosen videos. That way no cellular bandwidth is needed. Though frankly, if you are paying for charging, they could throw in a little LTE bandwidth for the video. Better though if your car pre-downloads your expected selections while on the home WiFi. Sadly, the storage space is not available unless you use a USB flash drive, and the streaming services are paranoid about downloads residing on those, even encrypted as these probably would be.

Or, most effective at all, put in enough Wifi at the charging stations to support video streams -- as well as other internet use by customers.

Otherwise, for now it means a smaller screen and more expensive bandwidth. For whatever reason, I find watching the clips from the late night talk shows which show up on YouTube to be a better occupier of charging time than 20 minutes of online reading. Other tastes will vary.

Update: Elon Musk has tweeted this should show up in the next major OS revision. But no other details. ~


You say that home charging every night takes less time overall than a (your estimate) a three-minute fillup a couple of times a week.

At a couple of times a week perhaps. But that would suggest daily distances of over a hundred km per day.

For some of us daily use is far less and the three-minute fillup is perhaps every two or three weeks (every 500-600km).

Since I occasionally do have to go a couple hundred km's (two 0r three times a month), and might not know about that the day before, it means I effectively do have to plug the electric in nearly every trip. Even if it only takes thirty seconds before and after each daily trip, I think that ends up being more accumulated time than the 3-minute fill-up overhead.

The average car is driven 12,000 miles per year. If you fill up every 400 miles (you don't wait for totally empty) -- that's 30 fill-ups per year. (I myself did less than that since I only drove my gasoline car 7,000 per year.) Many people drive some distance out of their way for a fill-up. There are always giant lines at the costco with waits of 5-10 minutes. Perhaps some people always fill-up only at gas stations right along the route, and so their annual total might be just 120 minutes refilling with gasoline -- include drive-in and out, pumping, waits and payment. If you have your charging pole where you park your car it's really just a few seconds, and so less time or a similar amount of time.

But if you have a long range car and don't want to spend the time, you don't have to charge every day. And you don't unplug on the days you don't use the car. Indeed, if you are a light user you would be fine not plugging in if you did the day before and drove below average that day, as people often do.

Tesla hasn't made it perfect yet, but they could get plug/unplug down to about 4 seconds with not too much work.

Anyway, the point remains the same. Charging is just something you don't worry about or spend any time on while doing your driving around your local metro area. It's only an issue on road trips for most people.

The placement of the charging port on most current electric vehicles seems strange to me. Tesla, Nissan, GM all place the ports where you would traditionally find the gas cap, optimized for filling from the side. But most electric charging stations are optimized to charge from the front or rear. Did designers originally anticipate charging from the side, or is this a carryover from designers used to building gasoline powered vehicles?

Yes, I find the placement of Tesla's port on the back (I guess you could call it side) to be counterproductive. I means at many charging stations you must back in which is not the end of the world but not how people are used to doing it. Sometimes Elon says "When the vehicles are automated this won't matter" and this could be one of those times. Would definitely prefer it on the front. I don't think it's a carry-over.

The Nissan Leaf has it right in the front. Very convenient.

It would also probably not cost that much to have it in both places, at last the level 2 plug. fast charge cord needs to handle more current. Tesla combines them into one. But I still can't quite figure out what the virtue of having it at the back where Tesla put it is. It's nice enough in the supercharger stations that have the unit at the back of the stall, but not any better than having it at the front would be.

Some people like the idea of inductive charge, which is easier, but it costs a bunch more and loses 10% of the energy. In the end, plugging in is not that hard. People wonder why Teslas can't just auto back in to the charging spots, perhaps they will soon.

There's often no room in the front or back of a car when squeezed into a small garage.

But then, if you use summon (or autopark or whatever technology that lets you get out before you park), you might not have room on the sides. So in that event you need to be able to reach the port from the front or back of the car. There's usually at least some room just to the sides of the garage door, and they're accessible while the door is open. As I recall Tesla's marketing materials place the charger there: by the garage door on the driver's side when pulling in head first. It might be a pain to wire it, but there's usually room there in even a tiny garage.

I guess putting the port in the back or the front would work too. That would probably take up more trunk/frunk space, though.

If not in the front or back (taking away trunk/frunk space), divers side definitely makes sense, as that's easiest to access. So that leaves driver's side toward to the back and driver's side toward the front. There's more room driver's side toward the back.

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