Taiwanese startup Gogoro is making news today after 4 years operating in stealth, revealing smart electric scooter designed for commuters plus a ridiculously ambitious intend to power it. You don’t plug the scooter in, such as you would essentially almost every other electric vehicle in the world – instead, Gogoro does have its sights set on user-swappable batteries as well as a vast network of battery swapping stations which could cover probably the most densely populated cities on earth.
I first got a peek at the machine with an event few weeks ago in San Francisco, where Gogoro CEO Horace Luke worked the room using the charm, energy, and nerves of any man who was revealing his life’s passion the first time. Luke can be a designer by trade with long stints at Nike, Microsoft, and HTC under his belt, and his awesome creative roots show in everything Gogoro has been doing. The scooter just looks fresh, as though Luke hasn’t designed one before (which can be true).
Maybe it’s the former 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 company has raised an absolute of $150 million, which can be now at stake mainly because it tries to convince riders, cities, and other people which will listen that it will pull all of this off.
In a higher level, Gogoro is announcing the Smartscooter. It’s likely the coolest two-wheeled runabout you can get: it’s electric, looks unlike whatever else out there, and incorporates numerous legitimately unique features. All-LED headlights and taillights with programmable action sequences lend a Knight Rider aesthetic. An always-on Bluetooth connection links in to a smartphone companion app, where you could change many different vehicle settings. The key, a circular white fob, is completely wireless such as a modern day car. You can even download new sounds for startup, shutdown, turn signals, and so on; it’s a bit of an homage towards the founders’ roots at HTC, in a 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 in my opinion by 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 a perfect circle of rubber with a public street because the rider slowly pivots the device on its front wheel.) Top speed is 60 mph, which compares favorably to your Vespa 946’s 57 mph. The company’s promotional video features 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 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 town (Gogoro calls them GoStations) to swap your batteries, an activity that only takes a few seconds. The hope is the company can sell the Smartscooter for the very same cost being a premium gasoline model by eliminating the very expensive cells, instead offering utilisation of the GoStations using a subscription plan. The subscription takes the place of your money you’d otherwise pay for gas; you’re basically paying monthly for your energy. In the event the “sharing economy” is hot at the moment – ZipCar, Citibike, so on – Gogoro would like to establish itself as being the de facto battery sharing ecosystem. (The corporation hasn’t announced pricing for either the folding electric scooter or the subscription plans yet.)
“By 2030, there’s likely to be 41 megacities, the majority inside the developing world,” Luke says, pointing to your map concentrated on Southeast Asia. It’s a region which includes succumbed to extreme air pollution in recent years, a victim of industrialization, lax environmental regulation, as well as a rising middle class with money to enjoy. It’s also a region that depends on two-wheeled transportation in a way 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 than the usual 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, in fact – but Luke and Taylor are very well-prepared for the question, insisting that you’re happier burning coal outside of 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 are already designed together with Panasonic, a prolific battery supplier that has enjoyed the EV spotlight lately because of its partnership with Tesla and an investment in Elon Musk’s vaunted Gigafactory. These are no Tesla batteries, though: each dark gray brick weighs about the same like a bowling ball, built with an ergonomic bright green handle on one end. They’re designed to be lugged around by anyone and everybody, but I can imagine really small riders battling with the heft. Luke and Panasonic EVP Yoshi Yamada are as pumped up 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 positioned in an authorized device, and they’re completely inert otherwise.
That circuitry is undoubtedly driven to some extent by a desire to lock down Gogoro’s ecosystem and render the batteries useless to anyone not employing a Gogoro-sanctioned device – yes, battery DRM – but it’s also about making battery swapping experience seamless. The Smartscooter’s bulbous seat lifts to disclose a lighted cargo area as well as two battery docks. Riders requiring more power would stop at GoStation, grab both batteries from below the seat, and slide them to the kiosk’s spring-loaded slo-ts. The appliance identifies the rider based on the batteries’ unique IDs, greets them, scans for any warnings or problems that have been recorded (say, a brake light is out or even the scooter was dropped considering that the last swap), offers service options, and ejects a fresh list of batteries, all throughout about six seconds. I’d guess that an experienced Smartscooter rider could probably stop and become back on the road within half a minute.
The notion 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, and you definitely won’t be able to having a Smartscooter. It’s designed to stay inside the footprint of the GoStations that support it. It’ll go 60 miles on a single charge – not too good compared to a gas model, but the problem is tempered to a few degree by how effortless 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 the arbiter of reality, the man 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 has arrived. “What you’ve seen today could not have been done three or four in the past,” he beams, noting that everything concerning the Smartscooter was created 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 offer the scooter a Jetsons-esque sound as it whizzes by.
Two batteries power the Smartscooter for about 60 miles between swaps.
Taylor also beams when talking concerning the cloud that connects the GoStations to 1 another and to the Smartscooters. Everything learns from everything. Stations with good traffic might be set to charge batteries faster plus more frequently, while lower-use stations might delay until late in the night to charge, relieving pressure on strained power grids. As being the batteries age, they become less efficient; stations could be set to dispense older batteries to less aggressive drivers. Using the smartphone app, drivers can reserve batteries at nearby stations for about 10 mins. Luke says there’ll inevitably be times where station you want doesn’t have charged batteries available, although with careful planning and load balancing, he hopes it won’t happen more than once or twice a year.
But therein lies the trouble: just how Gogoro works – and the only way it works – is simply by flooding cities with GoStations. “One station per mile is the thing that we’re searching for,” Luke says, noting that the company offers the capital to roll in the market to one or two urban areas initially. The kiosks, which cost “under $10,000” each, can be owned by Gogoro, not a 3rd party. They may go basically anywhere – they cart inside and outside, are vandalism-resistant, and screw into position – but someone still has to negotiate with home owners to obtain 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 generally seems 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 focusing on that initial launch (and for good reason), but there’s much more on the horizon. Without offering any details, they are saying there are many sorts of vehicles in development that would use Gogoro’s batteries and stations. I specifically ask about cars, simply because it doesn’t manage to me that you could effectively power a full-on automobile with some bowling ball-sized batteries. “4-wheel is not really unthinkable 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.
And once the batteries aren’t good enough to use on the road anymore – about 70 % with their new capacity – Gogoro doesn’t want to recycle them. Instead, it envisions a whole “second life” for 1000s of cells, powering data centers or homes. Luke thinks there could even be a third life following that, powering lights and small appliances in extremely rural areas of the world. Right now, though, he’s just attempting to get the electric assist bike launched.
After my briefing, I looked back through my notes to fully digest the absurdity of the Gogoro is wanting to do: launch a vehicle from the company which includes never done so, power it having 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 will certainly understand why it had been an attractive replacement for the incremental grind of designing the next smartphone at HTC – however i can also make an argument that they’re out of their minds.
I don’t think Luke would disagree, but he’d also believe that you’ve got to be a little crazy to battle 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 that we did everything from the soil up.”