Powering Up EV Technologies: With SECO and Imagen Energy
(gentle music) - Hello and welcome to the IoT Chat where we explore the latest developments in the Internet of Things. I'm your host, Christina Cardoza, Editorial Director of insight.tech. And today we're talking about the rise of electric vehicles and the infrastructure that goes into making this possible. Joining us today, we have Maurizio Caporali from SECO, and Ezana Mekonnen from Imagen Energy. So before we jump into the conversation, let's get to know our guests a bit more.
Maurizio, you've been on the the podcast with us quite a bit but for those who haven't listened to those recordings, I suggest you go back and check them out. But tell us more about yourself and what you do at SECO. - Okay, sure. I'm the Chief Product Officer of the SECO Group. We are a global company, leader on industrial microcomputer, and I follow the life cycles of our products and the design of new products. We have an extended catalog of more than 100 off-the-shelf product.
- Great, looking forward to hearing more about that, but, Ezana, welcome to the podcast. Tell us more about yourself and Imagen Energy. - Yeah, thanks for having me. I am the Co-Founder and CTO of Imagen Energy. My background is Power Electronics engineer. I've worked on various types of power converter for different application.
Here at Imagen Energy, we make a compact efficient power converter for electric vehicle charging application. - Great. Of course, power and energy is going to be a big part of this electric vehicle conversation. I'm sure, you know, everybody listening to this podcast, just not only in the IoT world but electric vehicles seems to be everywhere.
It's in the news. You have businesses and governments all over giving incentives, even utilities giving incentives, to make this move towards electric vehicles. So I wanted to start off this conversation today with you, Maurizio. If you could just talk to us about what's driving this rise and the interest in electric vehicles.
- Electric vehicles, as you mentioned, Christina, is a solution and products that have changed a lot actually the world of the industry of automotive. More in general is the breakdown respect to the one years of evolution of combustion automotive solution. Now the direction of electric vehicle changed a lot this industry in different way. For sure, electric vehicle don't use fossil fuels. Possibly the reduction of pollution on a specific environment. For example, the city where there are many vehicles and this could be very important.
Then there are many aspects interesting for the end user. For example, driving comfort, you know, where electric vehicles is something that is very quiet and also, as vibration point of view, it's a change of life in some way. Less maintenance, because this kind of solution is have less maintenance in part of the components, et cetera, and less failures on the movement, on the part of movement. Another very important consideration is from technological side, you know, is more our part in sense of knowledge and in sense of SECO background.
As you probably know, electric vehicles have a lot of technology inside. It's a complex environment where there are computers. There are many sensors and more in general respect the standard car, a combustion car, we have more technology.
In some way, we think about also self-driving cars, more related on electric vehicles. So that is not directly considered, but in more in general is more related on electric vehicles. On the other hand, and there are different interaction, no? For example, the possibility to interact with the car remotely, no? This is particular for electric vehicle where give the possibility to the end user to have all the information in the application of the smartphone, the control, the possibility to on the air conditioning before to entering the car, to have an overview of the position, to have all the information on the car directly on the application. The last point from technological point of view is the improvement of the battery technology. The battery is the core of electric vehicle in some way. Then this is the last important point.
- Yeah, absolutely. A lot of great stuff in there. You know, just the amount of technology that goes into making this happen and all the advancements that happened in the industry, that is making it, you know, more accessible, more sustainable. The sustainability aspect of all of this is, you know, something particularly interesting to me because you have the rise of electric vehicles, that means that you're going to have more, you know, energy being taken away from the power grid more, you know, endpoints being plugged into the power grid. And at the same point, utilities have this big mission to modernize the power grid, make sure that it's, you know, reliable and sustainable for the future. And I can just imagine, you know, this influx of energy being plugged into it, you know, does have an impact on it but yet we have the, you know, like I mentioned, government regulations and these utilities giving incentives for people to move over to the electric vehicles.
So, Ezana, I'm curious, you know, what the impact is on the power grid and how can we ensure that, you know, we're able to continue this, you know, keep up with this increase of electric vehicles? - Yeah, absolutely. I think the impacts of electric vehicle into the grid is profound. This is, you know, by way of added demand, if not managed correctly, it can add a strain into the grid, but when it comes to the grid, it's not always a demand side a problem. We've seen similar issues when we introduce PV solar power into the grid where excess supply of energy cause similar strain into the grid.
So when it comes to the grid, it's the balance of supply and demand that's critical. And this is done through smart loads, smart grids that can better coordinate the demand and supply and then also added storage into the system, so that it can better buffer the, you know, energy coming from renewable as well as the demand needed by electric vehicles. - That's a great point and, you know, going back to what Maurizio was talking about, just the technology that goes into it, there's not only a lot of technology that goes into these cars, but you know, when we're talking about charging them, you know, there's a lot of charging stations that need to happen across, you know, cities and you know, where people live so that it's not only they're charging it at home, but if they're, you know, driving and they're, you know, low on power, they can stop somewhere and make sure that they can get to their destination safely. I'm curious, you know, what kind of infrastructure do we have set up that we are able to, you know, have multiple different charging solutions around, you know, and how does that have an impact on the power grid? You know, how do we do this in a safe and sustainable way, Maurizio? - This is the important point of the evolution of electric vehicles, because probably, you have understand that first we have started with electric vehicles. Now we are thinking about of the infrastructure of charging station and all the aspect related on this critical point for electric vehicles, because this is part that could be very important. And the evolution of the technology is very fast, is very rapid.
And the same way is the key point to permit the the grow of electric vehicles, because without the part of charging station could not possible this change, this evolution for this kind of solution. Electric vehicle charging, there are different solution. It's called, they are defined in level, no? Level one or level two or level three. In some way, what is our interest is on the fast charging station.
The possibility to charge the vehicles in a very fast time to give the opportunity to the end user to charge the vehicle during the trip with the possibility to do these in few minutes. And also give the possibility to have information about the positioning, about the status of the availability of the charging station and the characteristic of the charging station, respect the car that the communication between cars and charging station in a open way. To do this, there are important aspects that is related on technology. Technology that is not only hardware, it's also software, that is very important to have this consideration between the hardware side and the part of control and service on top of the hardware. And we have analyzed this aspect. We have defined a solution that can work with, interact with the physical space, with the ambient in different way.
From one hand, with sensor, ambient sensor, to understand the status of the ambient. On the other hand, have an interface for the end user, the capability to give information to the end user. This possibility for EV charger that will be very pervasive in physical space. If we talk about the highway or city, this could be a very important point, in some way point of interest in the sense of data. The charging station can produce a lot of data and information that can give to the end citizen information about the ambient, and can be an important point of information also for municipality, also for public activities. On the other hand, give the opportunity to the cars and to the end user to talk and to have this kind of information.
That is not only the the way to charge the car but it's also data information system. The other important point is to manage a fleet of this charging station, and to give the possibility to avoid the single point of failure. This is another important point, because with the change from electric, from fossil fuel and electricity, we need to guarantee the possibility to charging the car to the end user. This is very important to have a solution that is very strong from this point of view to give the possibility to manage and to understand if there are critical point on the network, if there are critical point on a single charging station, and to have all this information ready and available immediately. Also with a predictive analysis information that arrive from the status of the entire fleet of charging station. On the other hand, there are the possibility to control the status of the vehicle, or if there are vehicle in front of the charge station, alert the user when the car is ready.
All this information can be done also with the open standard protocol that is available for these kind of solutions. - I'm just curious, Maurizio, because you at SECO, you guys developed the Clea, electric vehicle charging station. So what does it take to get these charging stations, you know, installed on highways or within cities? You know, do you have to build sort of the infrastructure from the ground up or do these cities have, you know, existing infrastructure that you're able to build on? - The important aspect is on, that we have analyzed on this market, is the flexibility of the solution, then give the opportunity to customize the last level of the solution from the company. They need to install the solution with specific functionality. This is in some way is typical, our characteristic, to define something that is very flexible and very modular, then give the opportunity to have a customizable solution.
On the other hand, the other important aspect is to give this part available from the hardware point of view and also from the software point of view. Then give a set of tools to define the right service and right solution for different level of user. Because there are the part that manage the maintenance of the infrastructure and there are the marketing side. There are the possibility to manage remotely the information, the pricing, the advertising system, and also give the opportunity to the end user to have all information about the status about the availability directly with the application on the smartphone. Then our solution give all this opportunity in the sense of a library, SDK, to develop the single application for different level of customer. On the other hand, from our point of view, give the opportunity to add large screen for information, to add payment system, to add many sensor that can enable different level of services depend on the place where the device will be installed.
- Great. Now I'm wondering, Ezana, from your point of view, you know, you were talking about the way that you have just seen the power, you know, grid and this evolution with power consumption evolve over the last few years, you know, when we have solar and new things coming up. So I'm curious, you know, all of this sounds great, and it's, you know, initiatives that we're doing today, but we want to make sure that, you know, we can support electrical vehicles for a long time to come. You know, this seems to be the way that we're moving towards in the future. So how do we ensure that all the efforts we're doing today continue to scale, continue to be flexible, and we can continue to evolve and modernize as you know, the demand and the increase evolves? - Yeah, absolutely. I think there's two parts to that.
You know, the first one, it's very crucial that we have a long-term view of what we're actually deploying. This is the future infrastructure, right? And, for instance, we are developing our charger to be bidirectional, not because it's needed now, because EV driver right now, they just want to make sure they'll be able to charge the car. But making sure that the infrastructure is in place for not only charging a vehicle but also be able to pull the energy back to the grid. And this will turn EV from being a liability to the grid into an asset for the grid with essentially a battery on wheel, right? So the second aspect is that EV charging owners worry about what they call stranded asset where they have charging station and it doesn't get utilization, doesn't get enough usage. So we have an architecture that can allow us to deploy a charging station and then add a charging port to it as the utilization goes up.
And so this will help keep up the infrastructure needed with the adaption of electric vehicle, and it can continue to grow. - Great. And you know, another point here is that, you know, there's obviously, we have the power aspect, we have the charging aspect, we have the electric vehicles themselves.
There's so much that goes into making this happen that I think it's obvious that no one company can do this alone. It really takes, you know, support from the entire industry and you know, one of the reasons why we had Imagen and SECO both join this podcast is because I know there's even a partnership between you two as well as Intel. I should mention the "IoT Chat" and insight.tech, you know, we are Intel sponsored, but I'm curious, you know, what the relationship is between Intel, SECO, and Imagen, what is the technology and the expertise that you guys are all leveraging from each other? Ezana, I'll throw that one at you first. - We realized these chargers won't be just a charger. They're multifunctional units, similar to how our camera, our phones are not just a phone, but a camera, GPS system, and more.
So while we focused on making a compact converter that's sufficient for the power conversion and the delivery, we look to, you know, SECO for the added functionality such as their CLEA AI, their capability on image processing, audio processing, and then being able to drive a large screen for advertisement which could potentially either offset cost of charging or provide functionality not just for the EV charger user but also the business around it. So we think there's, you know, having these infrastructure out there that are capable with a lot of processing capability could evolve to something else beyond just charging. And Intel has been just great in terms of the technology that they're offering us specifically an FPGA, which is what we're using for our power conversion, a very reliable and robust method of developing power conversion, especially as we try to make it efficient and extremely compact. And we believe that it takes some more than any one company to develop this future infrastructure and we're happy that we're working with SECO and Intel.
- Great. And, Maurizio, I'm curious from your end, you know, how you're leveraging Imagen and Intel. You know, Ezana spoke about FPGAs, I know that's really important for the security aspect of all of this too. Some things you mentioned was like fleet management and remote management. So I'm wondering what other, you know, technology from Intel or Imagen that goes into your EV charging solution or you know, the value of these partnerships between all these companies? - Yes, the core part of our technology is based on Intel chip. In particular, we are using the last generation of industrial solution of Intel, low power consumption that are based on Atom series processor.
These processor are very flexible, very powerful, with very, very low power consumption. This is another important point. With the possibility to analyze a lot of complex data, that also coming from different kind of sensor.
'Though, all this data can be analyzed in real time, that give the opportunity also to don't send all the information, all the data to the cloud, but can be pre analyzed directly on the device, on the edge device. Give only the information, the alert to the control room. And this is could be possible thanks to the technology also of OpenVINO based on artificial intelligence model optimization of these SDK, compatible with all the Intel solution. On the other hand, this kind of solution have industrial grade efficiency in sense of temperature, and also the long life fundamental for this kind of architecture that give the opportunity to maintain this solution for more than 10 years. This is also very interesting. On the other hand, as I mentioned before, the possibility to define this solution as a modular solution and the possibility to have a series of interface and IO.
For example, we have a direct connection with the electronics of Imagen Energy to exchange the data, the information between the two computer, the two system in the right way, in the perfect way. This have give us also the opportunity of this collaboration starting from the solution of Imagen that is more related on the power efficiency of the energy conversion and our solution that is to manage all data on top of the creation of energy, of the interfacing with the current, the infrastructure, and also the managing of all human interface based on big screen that can be managed, also 4k big screen, for all the information for the end user, and the connectivity that could be mobile, wifi, Bluetooth to have all the communication between the charging station and the vehicles and the end user. This maximum flexibility for the Intel solution on this way.
- So lots of great technology and partnerships working together to make this all happen. And when you talk about all the technology that is in these vehicles or these charging solutions, I'm sure that Intel processor really is just helping to, you know, make sure the performance is high quality and that the speed gets there, and that, like you mentioned, low power consumption so it's not, you know, overcharging anything. So this is all great news for electric vehicles. I'm curious, Maurizio, you had it sprinkled in there a couple times in the conversation, but if we can expand on, you know, just beyond sustainability, 'cause that's one of the big driving forces of the move to, you know, electric vehicles. It's just the sustainability benefits it's going to bring to society. But I'm curious, from a user and business perspective, what are the benefits that they're going to get moving to, you know, this new transportation model and vehicle? - Yes, for sure as mentioned before this is very important point for the evolution of the technology, no? The technology that could be related on the communication between machine to machine, the possibility to manage energy network in the right way.
We need to have data information and the possibility to communicate with the energy network and the internet network the same way. Plus all the sensor, all the device, electric vehicles, that are around in the cities. Technology innovation also for security reason. The possibility to have information about the nearby the EV charger that can come from different kind of proximity sensor or camera sensor, that can give to the municipality and police important data.
This is could be an important aspect of the possibility to have open system, to give a new kind of services. Otherwise if the system will be closed, this could be difficult. Now the technology give us the opportunity to analyze all this information, all this data that can be sent and directed to different kind of user and company.
- This has been a great conversation. I can't wait to see where else the electric vehicle industry is going. You know, I think in this conversation, we've only scratched the the surface of, you know, what is involved and what goes into this. And I think, you know, it's just the beginning for this, you know, EV landscape. So lots to look forward to. Unfortunately, we are running out of time in our conversation today.
So before we go, I just want to throw it back to each of you. Any final thoughts or key takeaways you want to leave our listeners with today? Ezana, we'll start with you. - This is just an exciting time. This big, big revolution happening with the conversion of transportation into electric.
And it can bring about a lot of new opportunity, new markets, and a more sustainable future. So this is an exciting time. - Great. And, Maurizio, anything you want to leave us with today? - Yes, the change will happen soon.
And this can be very important for the new possibility that are related on the possibility of interaction between the end user and the environment in the right way. And the possibility to use in the right way the electric vehicles. For a new generation also of EV charging more efficiently, and more simple, and more smart for the next future of charging and traveling way. - Great, well, I will be watching to see what else comes out of your respective companies, as well as the partnership that you guys have, SECO, Imagen, and Intel, what else grows out of there in the future, because I know there's still lots to come.
But just want to thank you both again for the insightful and informative conversation. And thanks for our listeners for tuning in. Until next time, this has been the "IoT Chat." (gentle music)