Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after 4 years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter intended for commuters plus a ridiculously ambitious want to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, just like you would essentially some other electric vehicle on earth – instead, Gogoro have their sights set on user-swappable batteries and a vast network of battery swapping stations that can cover among the most densely populated cities on earth.
I first got a glimpse of the device with an event weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked the space with the charm, energy, and nerves of any man who had been revealing his life’s passion the 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 is doing. The scooter just looks fresh, as if Luke hasn’t designed one before (which can be true).
Maybe it’s the previous smartphone designer in him that’s showing through. Luke is joined by numerous former colleagues at HTC, including co-founder Matt Taylor. Cher Wang, HTC’s billionaire founder, counts herself among Gogoro’s investors. The organization has raised an overall of $150 million, which can be now on the line because it attempts to convince riders, cities, and anybody else which will listen that it could pull all of this off.
With a top level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s possibly the coolest two-wheeled runabout you can get: it’s electric, looks unlike anything else in the marketplace, and incorporates a host of legitimately unique features. All-LED headlights and taillights with programmable action sequences lend a Knight Rider aesthetic. An always-on Bluetooth connection links into a smartphone companion app, where you can change a number of vehicle settings. The key, a circular white fob, is utterly wireless like in an advanced car. You may also download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, and so on; it’s some 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 working hard to dispel that image upfront. It’ll reliably do smoky burnouts – several were demonstrated for me from the company’s test rider – and yes it 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 a public street because the rider slowly pivots the equipment on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably into a Vespa 946’s 57 mph. The company’s promotional video incorporates a black leather-clad badass leaning hard through sweeping turns, superbike-style, dragging his knees on the pavement in the process. Luke says they’re attractive to young riders, and it also certainly comes through.
It’s not just 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, a process that only requires a matter of moments. The hope is the company can sell the Smartscooter for a similar cost being a premium gasoline model by taking off the expensive cells, instead offering utilization of the GoStations through a subscription plan. The subscription takes the area of the money you’d otherwise pay for gas; you’re basically paying monthly for your energy. If the “sharing economy” is hot at this time – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro wants to establish itself since the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The corporation hasn’t announced pricing for either the folding electric scooter or even the subscription plans yet.)
“By 2030, there’s going to be 41 megacities, many within the developing world,” Luke says, pointing into a map dedicated to Southeast Asia. It’s a region that has succumbed to extreme air pollution recently, a victim of industrialization, lax environmental regulation, along with a rising middle class with money to spend. It’s another region that will depend on two-wheeled transportation in ways that the Western world never has. Scooters, which flow through the thousands throughout 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 often maligned for merely moving the pollution problem elsewhere as an alternative to solving it outright – you’ve have got to make the electricity somehow, in fact – but Luke and Taylor are-prepared for the question, insisting that you’re better off burning coal beyond a town to power clean vehicles within 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 been designed together with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier which has enjoyed the EV spotlight recently due to its partnership with Tesla and an investment in Elon Musk’s vaunted Gigafactory. They are no Tesla batteries, though: each dark gray brick weighs about the same being a bowling ball, provided with an ergonomic bright green handle on one end. They’re built to be lugged around by anyone and everybody, but I can imagine really small riders dealing with the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada appear to be as interested in the batteries as everything 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 placed into an authorized device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is undoubtedly driven partly with a desire 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 producing the battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to reveal a lighted cargo area and 2 battery docks. Riders needing more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from below the seat, and slide them in to the kiosk’s spring-loaded slo-ts. The device identifies the rider depending on the batteries’ unique IDs, greets them, scans for almost any warnings or problems that have been recorded (say, a brake light is out or even the scooter was dropped because 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 also be back on the streets in less than half a minute.
The idea 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, so you definitely won’t be capable of by using a Smartscooter. It’s made to stay inside the footprint of the GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on a single charge – not very good compared to a gas model, but the issue is tempered to many degree by how effortless the battery swaps are. A dense network of swapping stations solves electric’s single biggest challenge, which happens to be charge time.
If Luke is definitely the face of Gogoro, CTO Matt Taylor is definitely the arbiter of reality, the guy 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 like they have mathematically deduced that Gogoro’s time comes. “What you’ve seen today could not have been done three or four years ago,” he beams, noting that everything in regards to the Smartscooter was developed in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t suitable. The liquid-cooled motor is made by Gogoro. So is definitely the unique aluminum frame, which can be acoustically enhanced to provide the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound because it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for approximately 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when talking regarding the cloud that connects the GoStations to a single another and also to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from everything. Stations with good traffic could be set to charge batteries faster and more frequently, while lower-use stations might delay 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. With the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for as much as 10 mins. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times where the station you desire doesn’t have charged batteries available, however with meticulous planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more often than once or every six months.
But therein lies the trouble: the way in which Gogoro works – and the only method it functions – is actually by flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is exactly what we’re searching for,” Luke says, noting how the company provides the capital to roll out to a few urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $10,000” each, could be owned by Gogoro, not a third party. They could go just about anywhere – they cart in and out, are vandalism-resistant, and screw into place – but someone still has to negotiate with property owners to get them deployed and powered. It’s a tremendous, expensive task that runs a very high probability of bureaucratic inefficiency, and it must be repeated ad nauseam for every city where Gogoro wants its scooters. So far, it isn’t naming which cities will dexmpky62 first, but Southeast Asia is clearly priority one. Luke also appears to take great fascination with San Francisco, where our briefing was held. He says there’ll be news on deployments in 2015.
Company officials are working on that initial launch (and for good reason), but there’s more on the horizon. Without offering any details, they claim there are other forms of vehicles in development that might utilize Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically inquire about cars, as it doesn’t appear to me that you might effectively power a whole-on automobile with a few bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel is not really unthinkable in any way,” Luke assures me. He seems more reticent about licensing Gogoro being a platform that other vehicle makers can use, but leaves it open like a possibility.
And when the batteries aren’t sufficiently good to use on your way anymore – about 70 % with their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t desire to recycle them. Instead, it envisions a whole “second life” for a large number 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. For the time being, 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 Gogoro is intending to complete: launch an automobile from the company that has never done so, power it using a worldwide network of proprietary battery vending machines, launch a few more vehicle models, sell old batteries to Google and Facebook, wash, rinse, repeat. Reduce smog, balance power grids, save the planet. I could certainly see why it was actually an attractive alternative to the incremental grind of designing another 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 a little crazy to take on something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation on the magnitude of your undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was about getting it perfect, therefore we did anything from the floor up.”