2015 / GLOBAL& Yu-Lin Chen
Breathing new life into mobility.Imagine a city like the countryside, where you can take a deep breath without filling your lungs with toxic fumes. Never stop dreaming!Mobility in many Asian countries revolves on two wheels not four. Not the romantic, gently rolling Dutch bike we imagine sedately rolling around quiet leafy, temple landscapes under a wide brimmed bamboo hat. No the reality is much more unpleasant: loud, smelly and so numerous you could be mistaken for thinking you have accidentally stumbled into a crazy, petrol powered plague.Take for example the Honda C or “Super Cub” series: in continuous production since 1958 with units sold surpassing 60 million. It is the most produced motor vehicle in human history. It revolutionised manufacturing, marketing (arguably the first “lifestyle” product ever to be promoted) and it set in motion the process of Japanese manufacturing industries moving into foreign markets by means of building new factories. This was industrial imperialism in reverse.So successful in enabling mobility was the step through scooter that in countries like Vietnam, a scooter is simply referred to as a “Honda.” And here lies the rub: as any visitor to one of those countries where the “lady bike” rules the streets can testify, their success comes at a terrifying cost. Even though some Asian countries have outlawed 2-stroke scooters, which burn a toxic combination of oil and petrol (let it be noted that the Honda Cub was thankfully always a 4-stroke petrol engine) the dirt and fumes emitted by such vast numbers of scooters contributes significantly to the lung-searing smog hanging heavily over so many eastern cities.The vast cost of constructing underground public transport networks in countries surrounded by earthquake zones makes a western European ‘solution’ an impossibledream for most developing economies. The relentless tropical climate ensures that human-powered alternatives remain understandably unpopular in the self-heating concrete jungle. Yet cheap transport is a key for driving economic growth and social mobility, a fundamental building block for any aspiring individual and economy.How do we resolve this conundrum, how do we get out of this mess?Well, we firmly believe the future will still arrive on two wheels, but with electricity as the power source. As most city journeys are short ( < 20 KM) electric scooters are the perfect compromise of individual mobility, cleaner energy and with a massive special bonus of making cities much quieter! However even though the first patent application for an electric scooter was filed in 1897 until now the concept has never taken off. Initial cost is surely a factor as is the trade-off between speed and range but ultimately the biggest inhibition is the lack of re- charging infrastructure. The best product in the world cannot change the fact that most scooters spend the night on the street, not in a warm cosy garage with access to a power supply. The dilemma of how to charge electric vehicles is not new - but we think a solution is on the horizon: it’s called We Charge. Let’s start with the actual scooter itself. Many existing electric scooters suffer from a false premise: they are based on the same designs as a petrol driven version but with a different engine. Our concept comes from a different direction: the Pedalec bicycle with a boost of Californian electric car DNA (thanks to Tesla for the inspiration)! By choosing a lighter aluminium frame construction, powerful torque motors and a power pack installed in the low-slung floor of the scooter we can make multiple improvements. Lower weight combined with efficient torque motors means longer range and a low centre of gravity greatly improving handling. Lastly the design frees up room under the rider for storing gear.But the real revolution needs to be in establishing a dense network of charging stations. Our vision is based on a network of charging points run by private individuals and businesses. We can connect the user (the scooter rider) and the energy supplier using Cloud structures, smartphones and clever apps. Thus we can neatly and efficiently overcome many difficulties regarding transferring energy and payments, access in remote areas and on-going business costs. The system becomes self-regulating, is easy to use and rewards both users and providers alike. Currently filling up your car or scooter with fuel takes less than 10 minutes. Filling stations are never too far away. Whilst current technology makes charging batteries in this time a distant dream we can at least move in the right direction: As the scooter itself is lighter and the charging network denser charging times become shorter. Users can charge whilst having a coffee, watching a movie or having a quick lunch break. We believe only by offering an integrated system comprising of a cleverly designed and constructed scooter with an (equally) innovative concept for refuelling can we truly free cities of noisy, smelly motorbikes. This idea is so exciting that HORAGE has taken an active role in supporting the young Taiwanese design student Yulin Chen within the framework of our educational project “The Tale.” Yulin is studying at the prestigious Royal College of Arts in London and driving the project forwards. Just imagine, a city just as quiet as the countryside.....where you can take a deep breath without filling your lungs with toxic fumes. Never stop dreaming!
- Writer / Roger Seal