Why didn't we think of that?
We collect cool little electric vehicle patents in a series called Your Future EV. Sometimes, though, a patent idea jumps out at us as something worth its own post. Like this idea from Ford to keep your PHEV charged. By using the gas engine. When no one's in the car.
Yes, Ford thinks that people won't be freaked out by a parked car randomly (okay, seemingly randomly) starting up its gas engine so that the traction battery can get some electrons. Filed September 29, 2015 and published yesterday, Ford's patent is officially called the, "Electrified Vehicle Method And System For Charging During A Non-drive Cycle." That's legalese for letting, "a portion of an electrified vehicle" start up, check the battery state of charge and then charge the battery with the internal combustion engine if – and this is important – the EV is in an open space. The patent doesn't say how the car will identify its surroundings, but it does say that, "The internal combustion engine is not started, however, if the electrified vehicle is in an enclosed space." Here's how the patent describes the activity (lightly edited for clarity):
During a non-drive cycle, the state of charge in the traction battery and the state of charge in the accessory battery can decrease over time. For example, if the traction battery is a 25 Ah battery with a 15% state of charge at the conclusion of a drive cycle, the state of charge for the traction battery could drop to 5% during the subsequent non-drive cycle. The drop could be due to self-discharge of the traction battery when the vehicle is parked for an extended period of time. During the non-drive cycle, the controller periodically wakes reassess the state of charge for the traction battery and the state of charge for the accessory battery. ... The timing of the wake-ups could be based on temperatures of one or both of the batteries, or the voltages of the batteries. ... If the state of charge for the accessory battery is below the threshold, and the state of charge for the traction battery is below the threshold, the controller can start the engine to charge the traction battery. Notably, the controller verifies that the vehicle is in an area appropriate for starting the engine prior to starting the engine. Since the controller can start the engine without responding to a user input, the starting is considered an autonomous starting of the engine.
The car will also be able to send the driver text messages, asking that the car be moved if it's not in an open area. Or, the patent says, "The alert could be an email, an audio signal, a visual signal, or some other type of notification providing an indication to the operator." As is always the case when it comes to patents, just because a company gets a patent for something doesn't mean anything will ever come of it, but we like to look behind the curtain nonetheless.