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BMW Encourages Hackers to Develop Sustainable Electric Car Future

Here’s one clear sign that the auto industry has gone digital: BMW this past weekend dangled free food—in a groovy collaborative space with bean bag chairs and techno music—to lure aspiring Bay Area technologists to concoct electric car apps. (Although I didn’t see any foosball tables.)

The BMW Sustainability Hackathon, held at BMW’s Group Technology Office in Mountain View, Calif., was designed to give local software developers, entrepreneurs, EV drivers, and sustainability advocates the opportunity to meet each other, and dream up technology systems that, in the most general sense, promote sustainable transportation.

“It doesn’t have to relate to cars,” said Ronan Brennan, the event’s organizer and a senior advanced technology engineer at BMW. He works on EV charging software from the company’s Mountain View office. “How do you give people access to transport without having to rely on pure old-fashioned models? Build a car, sell a car, and only one person drives it.” BMW’s electric vehicle program grew out of its “mega-city” project, which seeks to address the problems of mobility in major urban areas that are increasingly clogged with cars and traffic.

BMW held a similar hands-on event in November 2012 in New York City as part of a world tour to introduce the BMW i3 electric car and the exotic i8 plug-in hybrid. Ideas that emerged from the New York event included a peer-to-peer system for making farmer’s markets even more local—and a mash-up of charging network and parking apps to make it easier for EV drivers to use a public charger at a fee-based parking garage without having to run multiple apps.
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