As the price of gas increases, more and more people are choosing to buy electric cars. However, there was a serious lack of information about what happens to the large electric batteries in the case of a fire. As a result, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) decided to investigate the hazards faced by firefighters who put out electric vehicle fires. How are those fires different than standard gasoline vehicle fires? Can the firefighters get shocked by the big batteries? What happens when those batteries burn? How much heat energy do they put out?
Tom Bress, senior engineer at Exponent Failure Analysis Associates, conducted full-scale burn tests of electric vehicle batteries in a vehicle simulator and fire fighters put the fires out. He used LabVIEW and a NI CompactDAQ chassis to acquire data. He monitored thermocouples, heat flux sensors, and voltage and current on the simulator and on the fire hose nozzle. He also controlled the burners using a digital relay module and communicated with the propane mass flow meter using VISA and a serial cable. Most interestingly, he communicated with the batteries while they were burning using a CAN bus module in the NI CompactDAQ system. Basically, he pretended to be the onboard car computer and used the XNET protocol VIs to send and receive data from the battery. As a result, he could monitor the internal voltages and temperatures of the batteries while they were on fire. Awesome!
Bonus fact: Tom is also the author of Effective LabVIEW Programming, scheduled for publication by NTS Press in August of this year. Clearly, he knows his way around a block diagram.