Spark, University of Essex partner to boost electric vehicle adoption

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EV adoption rates around the world have yet to pick up.

By U2B Staff 

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Despite all the hype, the electric vehicles (EV) trend have yet to catch on in most parts of the world.

Globally in 2017, 1,223,600 units were sold, placing the EV market share at just 1.3 percent of total sales. Last year, this rose to 1.9 percent, signalling only a small increase in its popularity.

Putting aside cost and dealer and buyer knowledge, some of the reasons holding adoption back are range anxiety and the lack of trust in the vehicle’s accuracy and reliability. For the most part, this is a problem of perception – ie. drivers fear running out of charge before reaching their destination, they don’t know enough about the charging infrastructure available to them or they think they cannot take their cars through a car wash.

But UK cleantech startup Spark EV Technology believes its AI algorithms can help change that.

The firm’s AI-based technology delivers personalised journey predictions by studying driver patterns as well as available routes and charge points. To use it, drivers simply input their proposed journey into their Spark-equipped SatNav or smartphone app to receive advice on whether they can complete the trip.

Predicting charge range has tested badly so far in the real world but Spark EV’s system has reportedly been shown to be 10 times more accurate than other existing manufacturer systems.


To advance this, Spark EV has teamed up with the University of Essex in a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). With the university’s academic expertise, the KTP will further develop Spark EV’s technology and tackle the hurdles blocking EV adoption.

Spark EV Chevrolet interior
Spark’s technology is reportedly 10 times more accurate than other manufacturer systems. Source: Robyn Beck/AFP

“Spark’s technology aims to make electric-vehicle batteries more predictable, and therefore make using electric cars more attractive,” says Dr Michael Fairbank of the university’s School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering and the academic supervisor on the KTP.

“AI has the potential to offer significant commercial advantages to the technology sitting behind Spark’s current platform.

“We are excited by the opportunity to access significant AI ready data to advance the product and our own research, and at the same time help the UK increase its uptake of electric vehicles.”

According to the university, the KTP will run for 18 months and will see a “carefully recruited” associate based full-time at Spark EV, working closely with Essex’s academic team to manage the project.

Spark EV CEO Justin Ott says the KTP presents the perfect opportunity for the company to tap the university’s AI expertise and further develop its prototype. Collaboration, he said, was the best way to do that.

“Our partnership will accelerate our speed to market and deliver leading functionality in an affordable way, helping us increase market growth and technology independence,” he adds.


Spark EV’s technology has already received plenty of recognition, via partnerships and global start-up and accelerator programmes. These include the BP/RocketSpace Mobility Tech Innovation Collaborative programme, the Wayra/Transport Systems Catapult Intelligent Mobility Accelerator and the Cities Stream of the Creative Destruction Lab.

Spark EV has also received investment from New Anglia Capital and the Low Carbon Innovation Fund, and is currently raising a further funding round to support its growth.

“This Innovate UK KTP has huge potential for our academic research to have a positive impact on the environment, reducing emissions and improving air quality through the mass adoption of EVs,” says University of Essex Head of Business Engagement Robert Walker.

“We are pleased to support Spark with the strategic advantage of being able to access the research base of a local UK university and are delighted to build on an already strong foundation to deliver this innovation.”

The KTP is a programme funded by Innovate UK that helps businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity by connecting them to the UK’s academic resources.