Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after four years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter made for commuters in addition to a ridiculously ambitious decide to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, such as you would essentially every other electric vehicle on earth – instead, Gogoro does have its sights set on user-swappable batteries along with a vast network of battery swapping stations which could cover many of the most densely populated cities on the planet.
I first got a peek at the device at an event a few weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked the area with the charm, energy, and nerves of the man who was revealing his life’s passion the very first time. Luke is really a designer by trade with long stints at Nike, Microsoft, and HTC under his belt, and his creative roots show in everything Gogoro has been doing. The scooter just looks fresh, as if Luke hasn’t designed one before (that is true).
Maybe it’s the first kind smartphone designer in him that’s showing through. Luke is joined by several former colleagues at HTC, including co-founder Matt Taylor. Cher Wang, HTC’s billionaire founder, counts herself among Gogoro’s investors. The corporation has raised an overall total of $150 million, that is now on the line as it tries to convince riders, cities, and anyone else which will listen that it could pull this off.
In a top level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s possibly the coolest two-wheeled runabout you could buy: it’s electric, looks unlike whatever else out there, 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 right into a smartphone companion app, where one can change a variety of vehicle settings. The true secret, a circular white fob, is entirely wireless as with an advanced car. You can even download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, and so forth; it’s a bit 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 to me through the company’s test rider – and it hits 50 km/h (31 mph) in 4.2 seconds. (It’s surreal going to a scooter, the icon of practical personal transport, lay a great circle of rubber on the public street as the rider slowly pivots the machine on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably to some 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 about the pavement on the way. Luke says they’re appealing to young riders, and 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 city (Gogoro calls them GoStations) to swap your batteries, a process that only takes a couple of seconds. The hope would be that the company can sell the Smartscooter for a similar cost as a premium gasoline model by taking off the expensive cells, instead offering use of the GoStations through a subscription plan. The subscription takes the location from the money you’d otherwise pay for gas; you’re basically paying monthly to the energy. If the “sharing economy” is hot today – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro wants to establish itself as the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The organization hasn’t announced pricing for either the folding electric scooter or perhaps the subscription plans yet.)
“By 2030, there’s going to be 41 megacities, many from the developing world,” Luke says, pointing to your map dedicated to Southeast Asia. It’s a region which includes 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 pay. It’s yet another 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 in to the air compared to a modern sedan.
Electric vehicles are usually maligned for merely moving the pollution problem elsewhere as opposed to solving it outright – you’ve have got to make the electricity somehow, after all – but Luke and Taylor are very-ready for the question, insisting that you’re better off burning coal away from a city to power clean vehicles inside of it. Long term, they note, clean energy probably becomes viable in today’s emerging markets.
Opened for service, the Smartscooter looks almost alien-like.
The batteries happen to be designed in collaboration with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier containing enjoyed the EV spotlight lately as a result of its partnership with Tesla as well as an investment in Elon Musk’s vaunted Gigafactory. These are no Tesla batteries, though: each dark gray brick weighs approximately the same as 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 struggling with the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada appear to be as excited about the batteries as other things, 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 placed in a certified device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is certainly driven partly from a need to lock down Gogoro’s ecosystem and render the batteries useless to anyone not by using a Gogoro-sanctioned device – yes, battery DRM – but it’s also about producing battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to show a lighted cargo area as well as two battery docks. Riders requiring more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from beneath the seat, and slide them in to the kiosk’s spring-loaded slo-ts. The machine identifies the rider in accordance with the batteries’ unique IDs, greets them, scans for any warnings or problems which were recorded (say, a brake light has gone out or the scooter was dropped because the last swap), offers service options, and ejects a fresh pair of batteries, all throughout about six seconds. I’d guess that this experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and be back on your way in under 30 seconds.
The notion exploits certain realities about scooters that aren’t necessarily true for other sorts of vehicles. Above all, they’re strictly urban machines: you won’t generally ride a scooter cross-country, so you definitely won’t be able to having a Smartscooter. It’s created to stay in the footprint from the GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on a single charge – not very good in comparison to a gas model, but the problem 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 may be the face of Gogoro, CTO Matt Taylor is the arbiter of reality, the guy behind the curtain translating Luke’s fever dreams into tangible results. A lifelong 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 like he has mathematically deduced that Gogoro’s time has come. “What you’ve seen today could not have access to been done three or four years ago,” he beams, noting that everything about the Smartscooter was developed in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t adequate. The liquid-cooled motor is produced by Gogoro. So is the unique aluminum frame, which is acoustically enhanced to give the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound mainly because it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for about 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when conversing concerning the cloud that connects the GoStations to just one another as well as to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from the rest. Stations with good traffic could possibly be set to charge batteries faster and more frequently, while lower-use stations might hold back until late inside the night to charge, relieving pressure on strained power grids. As being the batteries age, they become less efficient; stations could possibly be set to dispense older batteries to less aggressive drivers. Together with the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for approximately 10 mins. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times the location where the station you desire doesn’t have charged batteries available, but with careful planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more than once or twice yearly.
But therein lies the problem: the way Gogoro works – and the only method it functions – is actually by flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is the thing that we’re trying to find,” Luke says, noting how the company has got the capital to roll over to a couple of urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $ten thousand” each, could be belonging to Gogoro, not a 3rd party. They are able to go basically anywhere – they cart inside and outside, are vandalism-resistant, and screw into position – but someone still should negotiate with home owners to obtain them deployed and powered. It’s a tremendous, expensive task that runs a high likelihood of bureaucratic inefficiency, and it must 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 desire for 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 much more on the horizon. Without offering any details, people say there are more types of vehicles in development that will make use of Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically ask about cars, simply because it doesn’t often me that one could effectively power an entire-on automobile with just a few bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel is just not out of the question at all,” Luke assures me. He seems more reticent about licensing Gogoro as a platform that other vehicle makers could use, but leaves it open as being a possibility.
And when the batteries aren’t sufficiently good to use on your way anymore – about 70 % in their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t would like to recycle them. Instead, it envisions a whole “second life” for 1000s of cells, powering data centers or homes. Luke thinks there can even be a third life next, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas of the world. For the present time, though, he’s just looking to get the electric assist bike launched.
At the end of my briefing, I looked back through my notes to completely digest the absurdity of the things Gogoro is attempting to accomplish: launch a car or truck from a company which has never done so, power it having a worldwide network of proprietary battery vending machines, launch more vehicle models, sell old batteries to Google and Facebook, wash, rinse, repeat. Reduce smog, balance power grids, save the globe. I can certainly understand why it was an appealing option to the incremental grind of designing another smartphone at HTC – having said that i could also make a disagreement that they’re out of their minds.
I don’t think Luke would disagree, but he’d also debate that you’ve got to become a little crazy to use on something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation across the magnitude of the undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was approximately getting it perfect, therefore we did anything from the soil up.”