Watch out Chevy, Nissan: EVs are going open source

Dube, who currently uses a Zilla controller from Cafe Electric, has said he sees “awesome” possibilities in Tumanako. With commercially available controllers, he says, “the software keeps the current, voltage, temperatures, torque, and speed all within very conservative bounds to avoid even a slight risk of over-stressing a component. In racing, you need the system to push all those parameters to the limits. You only need the system to survive until just past the finish line,” he says.

“Controller manufacturers guard their software jealously because they have a huge investment in time and money into the development and testing of that software,” he continues. But that doesn’t mean they always come up with the best solutions for racers. “Open-source controller software is the only way for a typical EV racer to ‘tinker’ with the drive system in a meaningful way.”

Of course, not everyone has what it takes to fiddle with the brains inside their machines.

“It’s a bit of a niche market,” Court says.

There are also safety worries. Bill Mills, an automotive enthusiast in Florida, built his own electric motorcycle from the stripped down frame of a Kawasaki Ninja 250. He opted for a standard, rather than open-source, DC motor controller and battery management system and says he would do so again, partly because he knows that the software has passed through rigorous safety testing. “That’s a concern with battery management systems,” he says. “Where can you show a track record of safety?”

But Court insists that open source projects may actually offer even more solid testing. Not only will Tumanako pass through certification from the Motor Industry Software Reliability Association, it will be vetted by its peers. “With open source… you can’t write rubbish code,” says Court. “Well, you can. But if you do everyone knows about it.”

This kind of transparency is at the heart of the project. Tumanako means hope and togetherness, but on the road, it could mean awesomeness.

This article, originally published on GE's digital magazine Txchnologist, is reprinted with permission.

Little electric car photo by beboy via Shutterstock.