University of Wisconsin students will have access to small electric cars for rent this fall, as UW researchers prepare to launch a project focusing on sustainable transportation.

UW was one of four schools nationwide that sponsors electric car companies Innova UEV and Internet2 selected for the project, Suman Banerjee, associate professor in the UW Computer Science Department and project’s director, said.

The goal of the project, which is part of a larger study on sustainable transportation will be to evaluate various aspects of electric car usage on a campus-wide scale, Banerjee said, such as driving patterns and fuel consumption trends.

“We’d like to use the information we gather to educate the community about the advantages and potential energy savings that are available from using these kinds of vehicles,” Banerjee said.

The project will also monitor trends in the usage of electric vehicle charging stations throughout the campus and city, he said.

Banerjee said the team is not planning to charge participants for renting the cars, but the rentals will be limited in some form. For instance, car rentals will not be open to the public and will be restricted primarily within the university, he said.

“The goal is this project will help us perform our research while people at the university get some benefit and usage out of the cars,” he said.

The logistics of the rental program are still being figured out, Banerjee said. The research team is working alongside the UW Office of Sustainability, UW Office of Transportation and DoIT Technology Services to determine how to launch the rental program itself, he said.

Giri Venkataramanan, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and co-director of the project, said they hope people will be able to reserve the cars using their smartphones, either through a unique app or an extension of the already existing UW app.

“There has been ongoing work at the university to see how people can use mobile applications in order to save energy in their homes,” Venkataramanan said.

He said the team had been scouting other opportunities to find categories where university uses a lot of energy, and transportation was one among them.

Venkataramanan said the idea for the project originated as part of an existing sustainable energy project coordinated between several departments in the university, including the UW School of Human Ecology and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“Myself and Suman [Banerjee] sat together and brainstormed, and together we wrote the proposal and ended up getting the vehicles for us to do some experimentation on how they will be used on campus,” Venkataramanan said.

Banerjee said the research team is currently working with university services to determine the legal requirements for renting the cars. Obtaining a rental will surely include having the proper insurance and license, he said.

Venkataramanan said the cars will arrive on campus in August, and the program is scheduled to launch by September. At the moment, the team is still unsure about the specifications of who exactly will be eligible to rent the cars, he said.

“We don’t know for sure how the community is going to react to this project,” he said. “There’s a lot of unknowns, and that’s what makes it really exciting.”