If you want to make a splash with a sleek well-designed gadget you to turn to designer Yves Behar, the eye behind the One Laptop for Child Project and the Jawbone headset. That’s exactly what General Electric did, and on Tuesday the conglomerate unveiled its WattStation electric vehicle charger, designed by Behar, and which can charge an electric car battery in 4-8 hours.
Behar told me on the sidelines of the event in downtown San Francisco this afternoon that he designed the WattStation in six months and tried to make the experience of using the charging unit “the opposite of using a gas station.” While gas stations are dirty, noisy, and harsh, Behar said, he tried to make the WattStation “friendly,” simple, silent and “more like the greenery in the urban environment.”
To achieve that effect, Behar said he created the face of the WattStation to be open and at just the right angle to welcome the user in. It’s almost more like a human relationship, said Behar. The face of the WattStation is also slightly heated so that any rain or snow will slide right off of it, and the circular LED light also changes color to show the state of charge.
Behar also said that the GE WattStation can act as a digital platform and a connection to mobile devices (the mobile aspect of Car 2.0 is something we’ve written about extensively). For example, picture yourself driving around in your EV in a city and receiving a text message that an open WattStation charger is close by, said Behar. Behar said he envisions an ecosystem of applications eventually being built around the WattStation.
Of course all of that talk about platforms and Car 2.0 can’t be created without software powering it, and startup Juice Technologies will be supplying the software for the WattStation. While GE’s press releases don’t mention Juice and no one at the GE event this morning could confirm that Juice was the supplier, Tom Hurkmans, co-founder and CFO of Juice Technologies, confirmed with us that the WattStation will be based on Juice software.
Back in February GE and Juice announced a development agreement to create charging devices that will integrate with GE’s smart meters and Juice’s Plug Smart intelligent charging system, and that would help drivers to juice up their batteries when power grid demands and electricity rates are lower. According to that release, “initial” chargers under the agreement would roll out in the U.S. in the second quarter of this year, “with full-scale production ramping up throughout the year.”
GE’s announcement about its WattStations today says that they will commercially be available in 2011, but with a specialized home version of the charger available later in 2010. Behar told me that a residential version of the charger could possibly have design tweaks that would help it fit better in a garage. GE didn’t unveil many other details about which utilities, municipalities and companies would be deploying the WattStations or how much the stations would cost.
Juice has dozens of utility partners (including San Diego Gas & Electric, which tapped Juice last summer for mobile charger tech to demo as part of a massive government-backed EV infrastructure trial) and GE says the WattStation charger will “help utility companies manage electricity demand.” At the event this morning PG&E’s CEO Peter Darbee sat on the panel that discussed the announcement.
GE faces a variety of competitors that have already been rolling out charging stations including Better Place and Coulomb Technologies (see 10 Electric Car Smart Charging Players to Watch).
The growing need for intelligent management of electric vehicle charging could create a $297 million industry in the U.S., and $1.5 billion globally as of 2015, according to analyst John Gartner of Pike Research. That market forecast encompasses the tech ranging from applications, servers, networking equipment and other hardware, to ongoing services for collecting and monitoring data about vehicle charging.
Now that mainstream electric cars are just starting to roll out this year, the large companies like GE have started to partner up with the innovative startups. While GE has teamed up with Juice, Siemens has partned with Coulomb.
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