Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after four years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter intended for commuters together with a ridiculously ambitious plan to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, such as you would essentially every other electric vehicle on the planet – instead, Gogoro does have its sights set on user-swappable batteries and a vast network of battery swapping stations that could cover probably the most densely populated cities on the planet.
I first got a glimpse of the system with an event several weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked the room with all the charm, energy, and nerves of a man who had been revealing his life’s passion the very first time. Luke is 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 (which can be true).
Maybe it’s the previous smartphone designer in him that’s showing through. Luke is joined by a number of 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 total of $150 million, which happens to be now on the line mainly because it attempts to convince riders, cities, and anyone else which will listen that it can pull all of this off.
In a high level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s most likely the coolest two-wheeled runabout you can get: it’s electric, looks unlike everything else in the marketplace, and incorporates a myriad 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 may change a variety of vehicle settings. The important thing, a circular white fob, is utterly wireless as in a modern car. You can even download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, etc; it’s some an homage to the founders’ roots at HTC, within 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 personally by the company’s test rider – plus it hits 50 km/h (31 mph) in 4.2 seconds. (It’s surreal seeing a scooter, the icon of practical personal transport, lay an ideal circle of rubber on the public street as being the rider slowly pivots the device on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably to 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 appealing 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 town (Gogoro calls them GoStations) to swap your batteries, a procedure that only requires a couple of seconds. The hope would be that the company can sell the Smartscooter for the very same cost being a premium gasoline model by taking off the extremely expensive cells, instead offering utilisation of the GoStations via a subscription plan. The subscription takes the place in the money you’d otherwise spend on gas; you’re basically paying monthly for your energy. In case the “sharing economy” is hot right now – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro desires to establish itself as the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The business hasn’t announced pricing for either the folding electric scooter or the subscription plans yet.)
“By 2030, there’s will be 41 megacities, almost all within the developing world,” Luke says, pointing into a map concentrated 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 invest. It’s yet another region that depends on two-wheeled transportation in ways that the Western world never has. Scooters, which flow with the thousands with 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 the usual modern sedan.
Electric vehicles are frequently maligned for merely moving the pollution problem elsewhere as an alternative to solving it outright – you’ve reached produce the electricity somehow, in the end – but Luke and Taylor are very well-prepared for the question, insisting that you’re happier burning coal away from a city to power clean vehicles within 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 have been designed together with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier containing enjoyed the EV spotlight recently because of its partnership with Tesla along with 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, built with an ergonomic bright green handle on a single end. They’re made to be lugged around by anyone and everybody, however i can imagine really small riders being affected by the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada are most often as interested in 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 a certified device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is undoubtedly driven partly by a need to lock down Gogoro’s ecosystem and render the batteries useless to anyone not using a Gogoro-sanctioned device – yes, battery DRM – but it’s also about creating battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to disclose a lighted cargo area and 2 battery docks. Riders looking for more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from beneath the seat, and slide them to the kiosk’s spring-loaded slo-ts. The appliance identifies the rider in accordance with the batteries’ unique IDs, greets them, scans for any warnings or problems which have been recorded (say, a brake light has gone out or even the scooter was dropped because the last swap), offers service options, and ejects a whole new list of batteries, all throughout about six seconds. I’d guess that the experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and become back on the road in under 30 seconds.
The concept exploits certain realities about scooters that aren’t necessarily true for other kinds of vehicles. Most importantly, they’re strictly urban machines: you won’t generally ride a scooter cross-country, so you definitely won’t be able to by using a Smartscooter. It’s built to stay in the footprint of your GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on a single charge – not too good in comparison to a gas model, but the catch is tempered to many degree by how effortless the battery swaps are. A dense network of swapping stations solves electric’s single biggest challenge, that is charge time.
If Luke may be the face of Gogoro, CTO Matt Taylor is the arbiter of reality, the guy behind the scenes 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 access to been done 3 or 4 years ago,” he beams, noting that everything about the Smartscooter was made in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t good enough. The liquid-cooled motor is manufactured by Gogoro. So may be the unique aluminum frame, that is acoustically enhanced to give the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound since it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for around 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when talking regarding the cloud that connects the GoStations to one another and to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from the rest. Stations rich in traffic could be set to charge batteries faster and a lot more frequently, while lower-use stations might delay until late in the night to charge, relieving pressure on strained power grids. As the batteries age, they become less efficient; stations may be set to dispense older batteries to less aggressive drivers. Using the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for as much as 10-20 minutes. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times the location where the station you would like doesn’t have charged batteries available, though with meticulous planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more than once or twice a year.
But therein lies the situation: the way in which Gogoro works – and the only method it functions – is by flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is the thing that we’re seeking,” Luke says, noting the company has got the capital to roll to a couple of urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $ten thousand” each, will be belonging to Gogoro, not a 3rd party. They can go basically anywhere – they cart out and in, are vandalism-resistant, and screw in place – but someone still must negotiate with homeowners to have 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 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 focusing on that initial launch (and even for good reason), but there’s much more on the horizon. Without offering any details, they say there are other sorts of vehicles in development that could make use of Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically inquire about cars, simply because it doesn’t appear to me that you may effectively power a whole-on automobile by incorporating bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel will not be unthinkable at all,” Luke assures me. He seems more reticent about licensing Gogoro as being a platform that other vehicle makers could use, but leaves it open as a possibility.
And when the batteries aren’t good enough to use on the streets anymore – about 70 % with their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t want to recycle them. Instead, it envisions a whole “second life” for a large number of cells, powering data centers or homes. Luke thinks there could even become a third life after that, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas around the world. For now, though, he’s just hoping to get the electric assist bike launched.
After my briefing, I looked back through my notes to fully digest the absurdity of the things Gogoro is trying to accomplish: launch a car or truck from a company containing never done so, power it by using 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 entire world. I can certainly discover why it was actually an attractive replacement for the incremental grind of designing the subsequent smartphone at HTC – having said that i also can 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 little crazy to consider something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation over the magnitude of the undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was about getting it perfect, so we did from the ground up.”