# This souped up electric scooter could transform energy use in cities

The only stretch of road that wasn’t being pummeled with some of the wettest weather San Francisco has ever seen on a Thursday afternoon in mid-December was right under a freeway overpass in the Dogpatch neighborhood. It was there that a small group of parka-wearing, umbrella-donning bloggers filed out of a bus and lined up along the road to watch a brand new type of electric scooter race up and down the street.

The driver — who’s a professional, we were assured — spun doughnuts with the scooter, imprinting a tight black circle onto the pavement, and leaning over with one knee far enough to look like he and the entirely black matte scooter are going to topple completely over. Entrepreneur Horace Luke, who is the co-founder, CEO and chairman of the company behind the scooter as well as a major designer of the scooter tech, called out instructions to the driver in Mandarin, as the writers (myself included) clap enthusiastically after each stunt. We were happy to be outdoors after several hours of corporate PowerPoint presentations, and happy that the driver had yet to skid out of control on one of the road’s many wet spots.

The company behind the all-electric scooter, and its accompanying energy tech, is called Gogoro and it looks like it could be one of the most ambitious energy-focused startups to launch in 2015. While the company, which was founded in 2011, emerged from stealth mode in late October 2014 with news of a $150 million in funding from some of Asia’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, at that time the Gogoro team had refused to explain just what kind of product that amount of financing was going towards building. Now, for the first time, with plans to officially launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday, the Gogoro team is finally ready to talk about what they’ve been up to. They’re calling it the world’s first launch of a “smartscooter and battery swapping infrastructure.” ### The idea Gogoro is much more than the manufacturer of an electric scooter that can do tight doughnuts, though that is an important part of its concept. For those that follow energy startups, the easiest way to explain Gogoro is like Better Place with electric scooters, but with much more of a focus on vehicle innovation, potentially much smaller overhead, and with an emphasis on densely-populated mega cities in Asia. Gogoro is looking to build out a network of battery swapping stations — one every 0.8 miles is ideal, the team said — that will act as the energy infrastructure for its scooters. The company will then sell the battery swapping service as a subscription to its users. The swapping stations are supposed to take just six seconds for a scooter driver to use, delivering two fully charged batteries on demand. The underlying infrastructure that will connect these scooters and charging stations is wireless connectivity, a mobile app and smart data analytics in the cloud. The scooter itself has a wireless network connection, the driver uses a wireless key fob to unlock the scooter and the swap stations, and customers will also have a mobile app that will be able to guide a driver to the nearest swap station with available charged batteries. The team referred to their scooters as a large version of the internet of things at the December event. The comparison to Better Place — which I expect will be used ad nauseam by the time CES is over — is one that’s not necessarily going to please the Gogoro team given Better Place’s spectacular failure, having declared bankruptcy two years ago. But some obvious similarities are there, so we’ll just call out the elephant in the room. But if executed well, Gogoro could potentially avoid some of the problems that dragged Better Place down, like unfocused geographic expansion, high costs, lack of demand for its vehicles, and a flawed go to market sales model. The ambition behind Better Place and Gogoro is similar: it’s no less than a bid to change how the world uses energy for transportation, delivering its customers vehicles that use electricity for fuel instead of gasoline, combined with a system that routes around the long time it takes to charge today’s modern lithium-ion batteries with standard charging equipment. When most people think about climate change and transportation, they think about removing or replacing gas-powered cars. But modern gas-powered scooters deliver emissions into the atmosphere and contribute to air pollution in many cities, sometimes even more than cars do. Some cities have even banned gas-powered scooters as a way to clean up the air, and are providing significant government incentives for electric two-wheelers. Gogoro’s Luke called the company’s sweeping vision “the beginning of something huge,” which he thinks could “kick start an industry.” He effused that sleepless nights are now his new normal as he’s just so excited about their product’s potential. Luke is a gadget and product visionary. He was formerly the chief innovation officer at HTC and also worked for almost a decade at Microsoft, helping deliver products like Xbox. If you don’t watch yourself, you’ll probably start coveting whatever he’s pitching. While Luke doesn’t have a background in the auto or scooter industries, he told me he’s always been interested in vehicle design and has followed it since he started his career in tech. The fact that the Gogoro team is tackling the design of the scooter more like a connected large mobile gadget than a traditional 2-wheeler might end up being an advantage. ### The tech Luke’s co-founder and Gogoro CTO is Matt Taylor, and he’s like the Wozniak to Luke’s Jobs — Taylor worked with Luke at both HTC and Microsoft. While Luke spent most of his time during the media day in December talking about the cool aspects of the scooter design, or the world-changing opportunity, Taylor went deep on the engineering and the strategy. Taylor said he and Luke were interested in building a new type of scooter partly because “the scooter has been relatively static for the last ten or twenty years,” making the market “an intoxicating opportunity.” More importantly, building an electric scooter can be done at a fraction of the cost of building an electric car from scratch: 1/10th to 1/15th of the cost, Taylor estimated. Scooters are also already more popular in some emerging densely-populated urban areas like cities in the Philippines and Indonesia than cars are, with 200 million scooters operating worldwide. The cost of Gogoro’s battery swapping infrastructure — which are modular units that start off the size of an ATM and can be scaled up — are planned to be much lower than the cost of battery swap stations that have been built for cars, like Better Place’s network. Luke said they cost “under$10,000 per unit,” and they just need to be plugged into an outlet to operate. Beyond that they don’t need any more infrastructure.

Gogoro showed off a working swapping station at the event in December and the process of swapping the two batteries out of the scooter appeared to be pretty simple. Drivers find the closest station with batteries using the mobile app, use a key fob to sign into the station, pull out the (somewhat heavy, but manageable) 20-pound batteries out of the scooter, and pop them into open battery slots. The swapping station then spits out two fully charged batteries, which the driver places back into the scooter.

Over time, depending on how you drive and charge, the Gogoro network can learn how you use batteries and can optimize the system for you. For example, if nine times out of ten you charge batteries on your Monday morning commute, the network will remember that and could in theory reserve them for you.