Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Next Automotive Revolution is an App


I was reading September's Wired this morning while commuting on the Metro. The cover is plastered with "The Future of the Electric Car" with an unrecognized guy walking and very normal looking car in the background (as normal as a Renault can look to a US audience). So it turns out that the guy is Shai Agassi, a former head dog from SAP. His qualifications are a strong grasp of software and business. No real mastery in automobiles though. His big idea came from a group that he was invited to, Young Global Leaders. I'm not sure if their mascot is The Brain, but it could be. Agassi made a pledge with Mutobmo (NBA guy) and Skype cofounder Zennstorm (sorry, I'm missing an umlaut there) to "make the world a better place". That eventually lead Agassi to start Better Place, a company dedicated to bringing no only an electric car the masses, but an entire grid.

Agassi is not a car guy. He's not inventing new technology to make batteries more efficient. The real magic he is bringing to the table is the software and business that allow it to work. Batteries and charging are the biggest cost and usability issues. His plan leases the batteries and sets up grid of stations where you charge or swap you drained battery for a freshly charged one. You can still charge your car, but that is a longer process that is only feasible at home or work. So really, he's addressing the problem from the user's point of view instead of technology centered. Apparently there's something to this UCD thing after all :) The main product that he is innovating is the software that will inform the user of battery life and where the nearest station is. Once the driver gets to the station, the system needs to recognize the car as subscriber and charge or swap out the battery.

His first test is a whole country, his native Israel. Apparently the guy gives very convincing speeches as he has the government backing him with tax cuts to motivate sales. Denmark is also on board for a second country. The concept is a major undertaking, but it has some major backing. Israel for instance has the urgency to become oil independent so they may be a good place for beta testing. I imagine they they would be more lax on glitches when the alternative means buying oil from an enemy. Denmark has an excess of wind power (?) so DONG is ready to power the grid.

I found this entire article extremely inspiring. Take existing technology, add some UCD and persuasion and change the world. Easy.

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