Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after 4 years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter created for commuters together with a ridiculously ambitious want to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, as if you would essentially some other electric vehicle worldwide – instead, Gogoro have their sights set on user-swappable batteries as well as a vast network of battery swapping stations which could cover some of the most densely populated cities on earth.
I first got a glimpse of the program with an event few weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked your room using the charm, energy, and nerves of a man who had been revealing his life’s passion for the first time. Luke is actually a designer by trade with long stints at Nike, Microsoft, and HTC under his belt, and his creative roots show in everything Gogoro did. The scooter just looks fresh, as if Luke hasn’t designed one before (which can be true).
Maybe it’s the former smartphone designer in him that’s showing through. Luke is joined by a variety of former colleagues at HTC, including co-founder Matt Taylor. Cher Wang, HTC’s billionaire founder, counts herself among Gogoro’s investors. The company has raised an overall of $150 million, which is now at stake mainly because it tries to convince riders, cities, and other people who can listen that it will pull all of this off.
In a higher level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s likely the coolest two-wheeled runabout you can get: it’s electric, looks unlike anything else available on the market, and incorporates a number of legitimately unique features. All-LED headlights and taillights with programmable action sequences lend a Knight Rider aesthetic. An always-on Bluetooth connection links in a smartphone companion app, where you can change a number of vehicle settings. The true secret, a circular white fob, is totally wireless such as a contemporary car. You can even download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, and the like; it’s a certain amount of an homage towards the founders’ roots at HTC, inside an industry where ringtones are big business.
“Electric scooter” inherently sounds safe and slow, but Gogoro is spending so much time to dispel that image upfront. It’ll reliably do smoky burnouts – several were demonstrated for me personally through the company’s test rider – and it also hits 50 km/h (31 mph) in 4.2 seconds. (It’s surreal visiting a scooter, the icon of practical personal transport, lay the perfect circle of rubber on the public street since the rider slowly pivots the appliance on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably into a Vespa 946’s 57 mph. The company’s promotional video includes a black leather-clad badass leaning hard through sweeping turns, superbike-style, dragging his knees around the pavement along the way. Luke says they’re popular with young riders, plus it certainly comes through.
It’s not only that you don’t plug the Smartscooter in – you can’t. When power runs low, you visit charging kiosks placed strategically around a major city (Gogoro calls them GoStations) to swap your batteries, an operation that only takes a couple of seconds. Anticipation would be that the company can sell the Smartscooter for a similar cost being a premium gasoline model by removing the very expensive cells, instead offering utilisation of the GoStations through a subscription plan. The subscription takes the place in the money you’d otherwise dedicate to gas; you’re basically paying monthly for the energy. In case the “sharing economy” is hot at this time – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro desires to establish itself because the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The corporation hasn’t announced pricing for either the folding electric scooter or maybe the subscription plans yet.)
“By 2030, there’s will be 41 megacities, almost all from the developing world,” Luke says, pointing to a map centered on Southeast Asia. It’s a region containing succumbed to extreme air pollution in recent times, a victim of industrialization, lax environmental regulation, as well as a rising middle-class with money to enjoy. It’s additionally a region that will depend on two-wheeled transportation in a manner that the Western world never has. Scooters, which flow with the thousands through the clogged streets of metropolises like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, are ripe targets for slashing smog; many models actually belch more pollutants to the air than a modern sedan.
Electric vehicles are often maligned for merely moving the pollution problem elsewhere rather than solving it outright – you’ve got to make the electricity somehow, in fact – but Luke and Taylor are-ready for the question, insisting that you’re more satisfied burning coal outside of a city to power clean vehicles on the inside of it. Lasting, they note, clean energy probably becomes viable in today’s emerging markets.
Opened for service, the Smartscooter looks almost alien-like.
The batteries have already been designed together with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier which includes enjoyed the EV spotlight in recent years as a result of its partnership with Tesla along with an investment in Elon Musk’s vaunted Gigafactory. These are no Tesla batteries, though: each dark gray brick weighs approximately the same as being a bowling ball, designed with an ergonomic bright green handle using one end. They’re built to be lugged around by anyone and everyone, nevertheless i can imagine really small riders battling with the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada appear to be as excited about the batteries as anything else, lauding their NFC authentication, 256-bit encryption (“banks use 128-bit encryption,” Luke says), and smart circuitry. Basically, they’ll refuse to charge or discharge unless put into an authorized device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is undoubtedly driven to some extent from a wish to lock down Gogoro’s ecosystem and render the batteries useless to anyone not utilizing a Gogoro-sanctioned device – yes, battery DRM – but it’s also about creating battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to show a lighted cargo area as well as two battery docks. Riders needing more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from under the seat, and slide them into the kiosk’s spring-loaded slo-ts. The device identifies the rider based on the batteries’ unique IDs, greets them, scans for just about any warnings or problems which have been recorded (say, a brake light is out or even the scooter was dropped since the last swap), offers service options, and ejects a new set of batteries, all throughout about six seconds. I’d guess an experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and become back on the streets within 30 seconds.
The reasoning exploits certain realities about scooters that aren’t necessarily true for other sorts of vehicles. Most importantly, they’re strictly urban machines: you won’t generally ride a scooter cross-country, and you definitely won’t be capable of using a Smartscooter. It’s designed to stay inside of the footprint of your GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on one charge – not so good compared to a gas model, but the thing is tempered to many degree by how effortless battery swaps are. A dense network of swapping stations solves electric’s single biggest challenge, which can be charge time.
If Luke is the face of Gogoro, CTO Matt Taylor will be the arbiter of reality, the man behind the curtain translating Luke’s fever dreams into tangible results. An ongoing engineer at Motorola and Microsoft before his time at HTC, Taylor spends my briefing burning through spec sheet after spec sheet, datum after datum. It’s as though they have mathematically deduced that Gogoro’s time has arrived. “What you’ve seen today could not have been done 3 or 4 yrs ago,” he beams, noting that everything regarding the Smartscooter was developed in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t sufficient. The liquid-cooled motor is created by Gogoro. So may be the unique aluminum frame, that is acoustically enhanced to offer the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound as it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for around 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when talking about the cloud that connects the GoStations to one another and also to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from everything. Stations rich in traffic could be set to charge batteries faster and more frequently, while lower-use stations might hold off until late within the night to charge, relieving pressure on strained power grids. As being the batteries age, they become less efficient; stations may be set to dispense older batteries to less aggressive drivers. With the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for about 10 minutes. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times the location where the station you want doesn’t have charged batteries available, but with careful planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more often than once or twice yearly.
But therein lies the problem: the way in which Gogoro works – and the only method it functions – is as simple as flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is the thing that we’re looking for,” Luke says, noting the company provides the capital to roll in the market to a few urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $ten thousand” each, can be owned by Gogoro, not a third party. They could go just about anywhere – they cart inside and out, are vandalism-resistant, and screw in place – but someone still must negotiate with property owners to have them deployed and powered. It’s a tremendous, expensive task that runs a high likelihood of bureaucratic inefficiency, and it needs to be repeated ad nauseam for each city where Gogoro wants its scooters. Thus far, it isn’t naming which cities will dexmpky62 first, but Southeast Asia is clearly priority one. Luke also generally seems to take great interest in San Francisco, where our briefing was held. He says there’ll be news on deployments in 2015.
Company officials are concentrating on that initial launch (and even for good reason), but there’s more about the horizon. Without offering any details, they say there are more kinds of vehicles in development that might take advantage of Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically find out about cars, as it doesn’t appear to me that one could effectively power a complete-on automobile with a few bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel is just not unthinkable in any way,” Luke assures me. He seems more reticent about licensing Gogoro like a platform that other vehicle makers could use, but leaves it open as being a possibility.
And when the batteries aren’t good enough to use on the road anymore – about 70 % with their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t want to recycle them. Instead, it envisions an entire “second life” for thousands of cells, powering data centers or homes. Luke thinks there can even be described as a third life after that, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas around the globe. Right now, though, he’s just hoping to get the electric assist bike launched.
After my briefing, I looked back through my notes to totally digest the absurdity of the Gogoro is wanting to perform: launch a car from the company containing never done so, power it with a worldwide network of proprietary battery vending machines, launch some more vehicle models, sell old batteries to Google and Facebook, wash, rinse, repeat. Reduce smog, balance power grids, save the world. I will certainly understand why it was actually an attractive option to the incremental grind of designing the following smartphone at HTC – nevertheless i can also make a disagreement that they’re from their minds.
I don’t think Luke would disagree, but he’d also reason that you’ve got to become little crazy to use on something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation across the magnitude in the undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was approximately getting it perfect, so we did everything from the ground up.”