Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after 4 years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter designed for commuters plus a ridiculously ambitious plan to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, as if you would essentially some other electric vehicle on the planet – instead, Gogoro has its own sights set on user-swappable batteries along with a vast network of battery swapping stations that can cover among the most densely populated cities on earth.
I first got a peek at the program at an event few weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked the area using the charm, energy, and nerves of a man who has been revealing his life’s passion the very first time. Luke is actually a designer by trade with long stints at Nike, Microsoft, and HTC under his belt, along with his creative roots show in everything Gogoro is doing. The scooter just looks fresh, as though Luke hasn’t designed one before (which happens to 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 corporation has raised an absolute of $150 million, that is now at risk mainly because it attempts to convince riders, cities, and someone else that will listen that it could pull this off.
At a top level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s likely the coolest two-wheeled runabout you could buy: 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 you could change various vehicle settings. The real key, a circular white fob, is utterly wireless as in a modern car. You may also download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, and so forth; it’s a certain amount of an homage for the founders’ roots at HTC, within 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 from the company’s test rider – and yes it hits 50 km/h (31 mph) in 4.2 seconds. (It’s surreal seeing a scooter, the icon of practical personal transport, lay a great circle of rubber over a public street since the rider slowly pivots the equipment 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 in the pavement as you go along. Luke says they’re popular with 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 city (Gogoro calls them GoStations) to swap your batteries, a process that only needs a couple of seconds. Anticipation is the fact that company can sell the Smartscooter for the same cost as being a premium gasoline model by removing the very expensive cells, instead offering using the GoStations via a subscription plan. The subscription takes the place in the money you’d otherwise pay for gas; you’re basically paying monthly for the energy. When the “sharing economy” is hot right now – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro wishes to establish itself because the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The company 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, almost all from the developing world,” Luke says, pointing to a map focused on Southeast Asia. It’s a region that has succumbed to extreme air pollution lately, a victim of industrialization, lax environmental regulation, plus a rising middle class with money to pay. It’s also a region that will depend on two-wheeled transportation in a manner that the Western world never has. Scooters, which flow by 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 when 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 got to make the electricity somehow, in the end – but Luke and Taylor are well-ready for the question, insisting that you’re more satisfied burning coal outside of a major city to power clean vehicles inside of it. Long 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 in collaboration with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier that has enjoyed the EV spotlight in recent years thanks to 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 being a bowling ball, built with an ergonomic bright green handle using one end. They’re created to be lugged around by anyone and everyone, nevertheless i can imagine really small riders being affected by the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada appear to be as enthusiastic 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 an authorized device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is without question 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 the battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to reveal a lighted cargo area as well as 2 battery docks. Riders in need of 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 depending on 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 brand new list of batteries, all throughout about six seconds. I’d guess that this experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and also be back on your way in less than half a minute.
The idea exploits certain realities about scooters that aren’t necessarily true for other sorts of vehicles. Most of all, they’re strictly urban machines: you won’t generally ride a scooter cross-country, and you also definitely won’t have the capacity to by using a Smartscooter. It’s made to stay inside of the footprint in the GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on a single charge – not good in comparison to a gas model, but the catch is tempered to some 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 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 he has mathematically deduced that Gogoro’s time came. “What you’ve seen today could not have been done three or four in the past,” he beams, noting that everything in regards to the Smartscooter was developed in-house because off-the-shelf components simply weren’t good enough. The liquid-cooled motor is made by Gogoro. So is definitely the unique aluminum frame, which happens to be acoustically enhanced to give the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound mainly because it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for around 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when conversing about the cloud that connects the GoStations to one another and also to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from anything else. Stations with high traffic might be set to charge batteries faster and more frequently, while lower-use stations might wait until late in 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 all the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for about ten minutes. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times where the station you desire doesn’t have charged batteries available, though with meticulous planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more than once or every six months.
But therein lies the situation: the way in which Gogoro works – and the only method it functions – is simply by flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is exactly what we’re searching for,” Luke says, noting the company has the capital to roll over to a couple of urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $10,000” each, can be properties of Gogoro, not a third party. They can go just about anywhere – they cart out and in, are vandalism-resistant, and screw into place – but someone still needs to negotiate with home owners to acquire them deployed and powered. It’s a big, expensive task that runs a higher risk of bureaucratic inefficiency, and it must be repeated ad nauseam for each and 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 has a tendency to take great curiosity about 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 for good reason), but there’s more about the horizon. Without offering any details, they are saying there are additional forms of vehicles in development that could utilize Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically ask about cars, simply because it doesn’t seem to me that one could effectively power a whole-on automobile with a few bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel will not be out of the question whatsoever,” Luke assures me. He seems more reticent about licensing Gogoro as a platform that other vehicle makers can use, but leaves it open as being a possibility.
So when the batteries aren’t good enough to use on the highway anymore – about 70 percent with their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t desire to recycle them. Instead, it envisions a full “second life” for 1000s of cells, powering data centers or homes. Luke thinks there could even be described as a third life following that, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas of 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 items Gogoro is attempting to perform: launch a car from a company which includes never done so, power it with 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 globe. I could certainly understand why it was an attractive substitute for the incremental grind of designing another smartphone at HTC – nevertheless i could also make an argument that they’re from their minds.
I don’t think Luke would disagree, but he’d also debate that you’ve got as a little crazy to use on something this big. If he’s feeling any late-stage trepidation within the magnitude of the undertaking, he certainly isn’t showing it. “Everything was approximately getting it perfect, and then we did everything from the earth up.”