Question: what happens if you combine the dream of fast-battery swapping for electric vehicles with the freedom of a motorcycle and the tech smarts of a smartphone-connected gadget?
Answer: the Gogoro, an urban two-wheeled electric self-proclaimed ‘smartscooter’ that’s breaking cover for the first time at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. And while the trendy, tech-filled Gogoro might sound like the latest in a long line of interconnected product ideas to launch at CES that we’ll never see in the real world, the backstory on the company and its product make for some impressive reading.
Unlike so many companies debuting products this year at CES, Gogoro has been operating in stealth mode since 2011, has raised more than $100 million in funding to date, and was cofounded by well-known tech designer Horace Luke and former HTC colleague Matt Taylor. With an impressive resume including time at Nike, Microsoft and HTC — where he helped design the first XBox games console — Luke is responsible for the Gogoro’s innovative design. Mirroring his role at HTC, Taylor is Gogoro’s Chief Technology Officer.
Together they — and several of their former HTC colleagues — have crafted a product which has already attracted a great deal of attention, if not for its looks but its technology.
You see, unlike most of the two-wheeled electric scooters in the world today, the Gogoro doesn’t plug-in. Instead, it uses a pair of small, lightweight, energy-dense battery packs mounted underneath the seat in the space you’d ordinarily find a gas tank on a gasoline underbone scooter.
These two battery packs — which use the same Panasonic 18650-size traction battery cells as the Tesla Model S — are small and light enough to be lifted out by hand yet can give a combined range of 60 miles per charge when ridden at 25 mph around busy city streets.
Like Better Place before it, Gogoro believes the ease of battery pack swapping is the key to its success. But unlike Better Place — which required multi-million dollar battery swap stations to safely and conveniently swap out a depleted battery pack for a new one — Gogoro’s battery swap stations (or ‘GoStations’ as Gogoro prefers) are little more than kiosks costing under $10,000 each. Modular in design, the stations can charge up four pairs of battery packs at a time, while a large, internet-connected dispensing system ensures there’s always a fully-charged battery pack when you arrive.
These small, modular GoStations form what Gogoro calls its Energy Network, a series of Internet-connected battery swap kiosks throughout major cities and towns providing as many miles of range as its customers desire.
When you’re used to the process, Gogoro says swapping battery packs can take just six seconds.
As you might expect too, the Gogoro Smartscooter itself is packed with some decent tech too. As with most modern electric vehicles on the market today, the Gogoro Smartscooter comes with its own smartphone app, allowing riders to customise their scooter’s fully-digital dashboard, record energy efficiency data, and receive coaching on energy-efficient riding techniques.
Meanwhile, the battery packs themselves — complete with embedded battery management system and NFC — can even provide data to riders on their use long after they’ve been swapped for another pack.
The scooter itself isn’t exactly quick. A single-seater rather than dual-seat underbone, its G1 Permenant Magnet Synchronous Motor is capable of around 6.4 kilowatts of peak power and can accelerate from 0-31 mph in 4.2 seconds.
Top speed meanwhile, is limited to just 60 mph, making the Smartscooter better suited to inner city life than suburban commutes. Don’t let the flashy leather-clad publicity shots fool you: this isn’t a high-performance ride.
But that’s not the point. While scooters aren’t exactly popular in the U.S., they are extremely popular in busy city centres like London, Paris or Rome in Europe, not to mention the many megacities of Asia where scooters outnumber other road vehicles by orders of magnitude. Cities where travelling at speeds above 20 mph — even on a scooter — is considered an achievement.
It’s no surprise then that Gogoro views its target markets as China, Vietnam, Thailand and India — and as such, the majority of its funding and support comes from big-hitting Asian investors like Sam Yin and Cher Wang, HTC’s co-founder and chairwoman.
For those countries, where pollution is at an all-time high and car ownership is still too expensive for many, Gogoro’s vision of the Smartscooter could have what it takes to revolutionise megacity travel.
The biggest challenge? Making the technology and the idea scale, and affordable.
Once you’ve purchased the Gogoro Smartscooter — a price yet to be announced — Gogoro says it will charge customers a monthly subscription plan which includes unlimited battery swaps and roadside assistance as standard. Without a set price however, we think it’s tough to predict the company’s success or failure.
And while Gogoro obviously has its sight set on the developing scooter-mad Asian megacities as its first market to capture, we think there are some truly incredible applications that would work spectacularly.
For example, while the Gogoro is initially marketed as a privately-owned vehicle, its user-customisable smartphone capabilities means it could work incredibly well in an inner-city scooter-sharing program, providing commuters with an easy, convenient and environmentally-friendly way from getting from the train station to their office.
But the real killer market outside of Asia? The hundreds and thousands of fast-food take-out restaurants, pizzerias and delivery services which rely on beaten-up, polluting two-stroke mopeds to deliver tens of thousands of hot take-away meals to customers all over the world every night.
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