Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after 4 years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter made for commuters plus a ridiculously ambitious plan to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, like you would essentially some other electric vehicle in the world – instead, Gogoro does have its sights set on user-swappable batteries and a vast network of battery swapping stations that can cover some of the most densely populated cities in the world.
I first got a glimpse of the system at an event few weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked your room using the charm, energy, and nerves of the man who was revealing his life’s passion the first time. Luke is actually a designer by trade with long stints at Nike, Microsoft, and HTC under his belt, with his fantastic creative roots show in everything Gogoro did. The scooter just looks fresh, just 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 several 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 absolute of $150 million, which is now on the line since it attempts to convince riders, cities, and anyone else that will listen that it can pull all of this off.
At a higher level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s probably the coolest two-wheeled runabout you can purchase: it’s electric, looks unlike everything else in the marketplace, 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 number of vehicle settings. The important thing, a circular white fob, is utterly wireless as in a contemporary car. You may also download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, etc; it’s a certain amount of an homage on the founders’ roots at HTC, in an industry where ringtones are big business.
“Electric scooter” inherently sounds safe and slow, but Gogoro is making an effort 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 hits 50 km/h (31 mph) in 4.2 seconds. (It’s surreal visiting a scooter, the icon of practical personal transport, lay a great circle of rubber with a public street as the rider slowly pivots the machine on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably to your 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 in the pavement in the process. Luke says they’re popular with young riders, and yes 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, a procedure that only requires a few seconds. Anticipation is the fact that company can sell the Smartscooter for the same cost as being a premium gasoline model by taking out the very costly cells, instead offering using the GoStations using a subscription plan. The subscription takes the area of your money you’d otherwise pay for gas; you’re basically paying monthly to the energy. When the “sharing economy” is hot today – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro wants to establish itself as being the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The organization 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 within the developing world,” Luke says, pointing to a map focused on Southeast Asia. It’s a region that has succumbed to extreme air pollution in recent times, a victim of industrialization, lax environmental regulation, and a rising middle class with money to enjoy. It’s another region that will depend on two-wheeled transportation in a way that the Western world never has. Scooters, which flow from 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 into the air compared to a modern sedan.
Electric vehicles are often maligned for merely moving the pollution problem elsewhere rather than solving it outright – you’ve reached make the electricity somehow, after all – but Luke and Taylor are very well-ready for the question, insisting that you’re happier burning coal beyond a major 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 are already designed in collaboration with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier which has enjoyed the EV spotlight in recent years because of its partnership with Tesla plus an investment in Elon Musk’s vaunted Gigafactory. They are no Tesla batteries, though: each dark gray brick weighs about the same like a bowling ball, built with an ergonomic bright green handle in one end. They’re created to be lugged around by anyone and everybody, but 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 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 placed into a certified device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is certainly driven in part from a need 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 and 2 battery docks. Riders in need of more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from below 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 were recorded (say, a brake light has gone out or perhaps the scooter was dropped since the last swap), offers service options, and ejects a whole new set of batteries, all in the course of about six seconds. I’d guess that the experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and be back on the road in less than half a minute.
The idea exploits certain realities about scooters that aren’t necessarily true for other sorts of vehicles. Most significantly, 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 within the footprint of the GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on one charge – not so good compared to a gas model, but the problem is tempered to a few 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 will be the arbiter of reality, the person 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 as though they have mathematically deduced that Gogoro’s time has arrived. “What you’ve seen today could not have access to been done three or four in the past,” he beams, noting that everything in regards to the Smartscooter was created in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t good enough. The liquid-cooled motor is made by Gogoro. So will be the unique aluminum frame, which can be acoustically enhanced to provide the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound mainly because it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for approximately 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when talking in regards to the cloud that connects the GoStations to just one another and to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from anything else. Stations with high traffic may be set to charge batteries faster and a lot more frequently, while lower-use stations might hold back until late from 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. Using the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for as much as 10 mins. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times the location where the station you want doesn’t have charged batteries available, though with careful planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more often than once or every six months.
But therein lies the trouble: just how Gogoro works – and the only method the system functions – is as simple as flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is the thing that we’re searching for,” Luke says, noting the company has got the capital to roll over to a couple of urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $10,000” each, can be owned by Gogoro, not a 3rd party. They can go just about anywhere – they cart inside and out, are vandalism-resistant, and screw in place – but someone still has to negotiate with home owners to have them deployed and powered. It’s a big, expensive task that runs a high chance of bureaucratic inefficiency, and it must be repeated ad nauseam for every 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 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 centering on that initial launch (and even for good reason), but there’s much more on the horizon. Without offering any details, they claim there are many types of vehicles in development that would make use of Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically find out about cars, as it doesn’t seem 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 a platform that other vehicle makers can use, but leaves it open as a possibility.
And once the batteries aren’t good enough to use on the streets anymore – about 70 % of the new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t would like 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 become a third life next, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas around the globe. For the time being, though, he’s just trying to get the electric assist bike launched.
Following my briefing, I looked back through my notes to totally digest the absurdity of the things Gogoro is trying to do: launch an automobile coming from a company that has 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 could certainly realize why it had been an attractive replacement for the incremental grind of designing the following smartphone at HTC – but 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 take on something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation over the magnitude of your undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was approximately getting it perfect, and then we did everything from the soil up.”