An affordable electric scooter that will rely on a network of battery charging stations could revolutionise transport infrastructure in densely populated cities. David Phelan was at the product's launch last week in Las Vegas
The Gogoro scooter gleams in the corner of the Las Vegas hotel suite where its creator is demonstrating it. The vehicle's racing-grade aluminium chassis means it's stiff and strong. It is also light, helping it speed from zero to 31mph in 4.2 seconds. It has a top speed of 60mph. Not bad for an electric scooter.
But it wasn't the bike's technical specifications that grabbed attention at last week's annual International Consumer Electronics Show, known for revealing the technological innovations of the future. Rather, it was its designers' radical infrastructural ambitions, an innovative business model that draws on the smartphone industry and the vehicle's seamless integration with handheld technology.
Gogoro is the brainchild of Horace Luke, formerly chief innovation officer at the Taiwanese smartphone company HTC. After years involved in phone design, Luke wanted new challenges but, as he told Icon: "I've brought everything I learnt in telecommunications with me."
This is most apparent in the scooter's proposed business model. Just as mobile phone upfront prices are subsidised, with the cost recovered through rental agreements, so buyers will subscribe to rent Gogoro's rechargeable batteries.
And, by "leveraging the power of big data", Luke thinks he's solved the problem that stymies electric vehicles: when the battery is spent, it's useless for hours until recharged. Gogoro will place ATM-style battery kiosks, called "Go Stations", around town. When your juice is nearly finished, a phone app will direct you to the nearest charged battery so you can swap it for your depleted one – a process that takes seconds.
Previous proposals for battery swapping, such as those for electric cars, failed because of the complexity and cost of setting up such charging stations. Gogoro believes the simplicity of its design makes its system feasible. In particular, the scooter is aimed at densely populated mega-cities in the developing world, where two-wheeled vehicles are popular but are polluting and costly to run.
Luke has wider ambitions for his scooter and the Gogoro Energy Network. In cities with growing populations where infrastructure can't keep up, he sees a future where a Gogoro battery could power a house for half an evening, so a parent can cook dinner while a child does their homework under an electric light.
The bike itself employs many of the "smart" function we are becoming increasingly accustomed to. There's no ignition lock: the key, which looks – appropriately for the location of its launch – like a poker chip, is NFC and Bluetooth-enabled, so it just needs to be near the vehicle to work. When you're done, walking away turns the power off automatically and locks the bike.
Thirty on-board sensors mean the scooter knows, say, when a taillight is out and the company can remind you to fix it. If the bike gets knocked over while you're riding, Gogoro HQ is alerted and can call to check if you need assistance. The dashboard shows battery life, time and speed, and users can personalise the display via a smartphone app.
The scooter is set to go on sale later this year. For now, Gogoro is focusing on building its network of Go Stations in pilot cities, probably in the US or Asia. But if it lives up to its promises, the scooter could be a game changer.