Friday, August 18, 2023

Electrified Road Trip Part 1: A tale of two maps


So, we recently became the owners of a new Tesla Model Y.  We went with the base model, and only paid to change the paint color and add a trailer hitch (mostly for a bike rack.). I have actually plotted this trip twice so far.  Once with the Tesla App, and again with (ABRP for short)

I have to admit, I like ABRP more, so it seems to live up to its name.  The nice thing about both tools, is they break the route into legs, where you need to stop at a charger.  They also both had some functionality for estimating charge times, and how much to charge the battery to make it through the next leg of the trip.  However, beyond that, the two. apps start to show their differences.

The Tesla app is nice because its built into the car, and you can start the navigation on your phone, then send it to the car before you get in.  The way Tesla has built their ecosystem it feels like this is how you are supposed to do it.  The biggest limitation is that its built for you to plot your course and go now, and it also seemed to demand the full potential of the car too.  It would frequently use 80-90% of the battery to get you a longer distance, and it the charge times were much longer at each stop.  I didn't find a way to change this in the app, but its also possible I missed something.  The last gripe I have is that it doesn't show the amenities at each stop from the route screen; if you write down the chargers, then navigate back in the app you can see a row of icons indicating things like bathrooms, food, or shopping near by, but the app doesn't indicate if these things are walking distance from the charger.

ABRP on the other hand has a limitation in that it doesn't work natively on the car; it is a web page, so you can load it in the car's browser, but you lose some features if you do that, like Tesla's built in ability to prep the battery for the supercharger before you arrive at the station.  However, you can export the route to Google Maps, Apple Maps, or a Calendar, which are all ways that you can import the suggested stops into the Tesla's built in navigation system (Tesla also has a feature will it will automatically navigate to your next calendar appointment when you get in the car.)

ABRP also allows you to export the stops to a spreadsheet (or view the table in the browser) that outlines all the data you could want.  The battery charge you will have on arrival and charge you need to make the next station, estimated charging time, estimated cost, distance to the next station, and drive time.  This is basically an itinerary to review the trip and choose the stops you want to make.  This is also highly adjustable.  You can set the range of your vehicle on a full charge, set min and max limits for how much to charge the battery (I I try to keep it between 20 - 80%.). There is also an adjustment to set if you want more stops with shorter charges, fewer stops with long charges, or optimize for the quickest trip.

Once you create your route, you can click on each charging station to see what types of amenities are near by.  It will tell you if there are bathrooms, its dog friendly, has a playground, or is trailer friendly, and it will clarify how many food options you have with names, phone numbers, web sites, and a distance from charger.  The map view will use OpenStreepMap data to show you that the restaurant is only 800 ft away, but its across the interstate, so its more like a 1/2 mile walk.

This is a planning tool to help you know if its better to stop in Ellensburg and Mosses Lake, or push your battery a little more and go straight to Quincey.  A quick conclusion on that scenario will tell you there are multiple restaurants very close to the chargers in Ellensburg and Mosses Lake, but the one in Quincy is the 1/2 mile walk I talked about in the previous paragraph.  I also learned that there are two chargers in Ellensburg, one at 150Kw and another at 250Kw.  Now, those are both Tesla chargers, so it would be visible in the Tesla app too, but the tesla app seems to leave a lot to be desired during the planning phase of the trip.

So, you may have noticed I've left out the elephant in the room; most people use Google, Garmin and Apple maps for navigation.  Well, as a Tesla owner, there really isn't a convenient way to use any of those maps (well, technically the map data in a Tesla comes from Google.)  The big beautiful screen in the car doesn't support Android Auto or Apply CarPlay; a huge negative for any car these days.  So, for those who buy an electric car from any other car maker, you will have that experience at your finger tips.  However, you can't actually tell Google/Apple/Garmin maps to route your trip to include stops for electric chargers, calculate the charge time for those charger, or calculate the cost of charging.  However, the ABRP Android app uses Google Maps for its backend, and the Apple version of the app uses Apple Maps data; so that is worth mentioning.

Speaking of the app experiences, I think its clear at this point I am biased in favor of ABRP.  The Tesla experience for trip planning is okay, and its roughly the same in the web browser, mobile app, and on the car.  Actually, I think you get a little more google map data in the car than the phone or browser, but I think that's by design.  A great thing about using the phone is that all map programs have a nice feature to send a location directly to your tesla;  I use this all the time.  I often look up current travel time (including traffic) before I get in the car, so having a nice share button to tell my car to navigate there when I get in the car is amazing!  This is a tiny thing that makes me happy multiple times a day.

So, back to the ABRP mobile app.  I started by visiting the website on my computer and plotting my course.  I took that course and investigated which chargers had the amenities I wanted near by to help keep the kids and dogs happy, and now I am going back to the app to create a route with waypoints at my desired chargers.  I can also add a stop at a hotel.  This was very easy to do, and I created a free account to save my plan.  On my phone.

So, this concludes the planning phase of this road trip.  However, before the real trip, I am going to test out my theories with a smaller trip.  I will be faced with the decision:  can I count on my family to stick to a plan using calendar events for each charger?  The advantage here is that the Tesla would (in theory) sync my calendar, and load the next charger every time we get in the car.  However, this could fall apart and become unwieldy if we don't stick to a schedule; for the record, my family NEVER sticks to a schedule.  

The alternate plan would be to send the tesla the location of the next charger from my plan every time we leave a charger.  This might work, but could fall apart if cell service to either my phone or the tesla is unavailable.  We will just need to try and test it I guess.  Until the next phase.