The Future Urban Home

Cities are at the heart of a sustainable future. Here we investigate some of the innovations that will make this urban future possible.

Electric car
1Jonas Opedal

Jonas OpedalJanuary 16, 2015

A $1bn Electric Car Failure

The idea was simple enough.

As simple as revolutionising an entire industry can be, anyhow. Putting electric vehicles on people’s radars for good and fixing one of its biggest drawbacks, range anxiety (distance travelled per charge)

How, you ask? By rethinking the whole charging procedure and dramatically reducing the charging time.

A good idea, you ask? According to investors, yes. Better Place raised almost $1 billion in funding without a ready product.

Who, you ask? A serial entrepreneur named Shai Agassi, a guy charismatic as few others, was able to convince investors he would sell millions of electric cars in Israel and the rest of the world.

Innovative technology

Instead of relying on the traditional stop-and-wait-while-your-battery/tank-is-refilled, which for an electric car takes a long time, Agassi wanted to think new. His solution was to exchange the whole battery package under the car, fully automatic, and replace it with a fully charged one. This meant that you would be able to be in and out of a charging station, leaving with a full battery in less than 5 minutes, not much longer than the time taken to refill a regular petrol tank. This, combined with a vast network of battery swapping stations throughout cities and the countryside, would mean the end of range anxiety.

Better Place was founded in 2007 and immediately drew investors’ attention. They wanted to build affordable electric family cars in a market consisting almost solely of Tesla Roadsters. After hitting it off with current CEO of Nissan and Renault, Agassi suggested at a TED talk in 2009 that Renault cars would enter the market with “mass volume – mass volume being the first year, 100,000 cars”. This would mean half the new-car market in Israel at the time, and he later told Time magazine that they would eliminate new sales of petrol cars by 2015.

The final order to Nissan-Renault, placed in 2009, committed Better Place to buy 100,000 cars between 2011 and 2016. Their planned business model would borrow from the telecom industry in that they would subsidise the vehicles and make use of monthly subscriptions for the charging networks. Eternal optimism dominated in these early days and Agassi soon told reporters that the cars would price about half of a petrol car, this without having agreed on prices with Renault-Nissan.

The huge investments meant Agassi was soon on the lookout for expansion beyond the Israeli borders. Better Place focused huge amounts of time and money on lobbying politicians and planning for new markets, first out would be Denmark and Australia. In addition, instead of hiring experienced people from the motor industry, his managing group consisted of both his brother, sister and father, and later also his girlfriend and her friends.

His attempts to get other car manufacturers on board did not go well, scaring away German manufacturers with his ideological and top-down point of view. In fact, while meeting with General Motors, Agassi suggested to them that they would deliver their cars for free, and laughed at their plans for the new Chevrolet Volt. As you can imagine, the meeting did not end on good terms.

When the first cars were finally ready for delivery in 2012, reality hit hard. The driving range was substantially lower than promised and priced at the same level as petrol cars. The monthly subscription added $3,000 a year plus charging, and the battery station infrastructure ended up costing $2m. At that time, they were losing $500,000 each day. In May 2013, Better Place declared bankruptcy having sold just 1,500 cars.

Lessons learned

Better Place had a big opportunity to push the electric car revolution, with huge funding and massive public interest. In the end it was probably mismanagement that ruined the big adventure. But was it ever a good idea?

The short answer is yes.

Let us first look at the investors and the media. Both gave of their resources in vast amounts, underlining that the idea must have had some things going for it. Also, Better Place did manage to build a working vehicle and charging stations, albeit not exactly with the specification and price they had promised. In other words, the technology was possible.

Another convincing argument is that Tesla supports the technology. This video from Tesla depicts the Model S switching battery in only 90 seconds, substantially faster than Better Place allowed.

On stage, Elon Musk proclaims: “The only decision you’ll make when you come to our Tesla Stations is; do you prefer faster or free?”, suggesting that swapping stations might not be too far away.

So far, noone has picked up the baton from Better Place. Probably the number of electric cars is still too few to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on switching equipment. The vast number of different batteries and standards of charging must also seem cooling for the industry, allowing one type of car per different station.

Instead, industry focus is now on improving battery and supercharging technologies. But with growing number of vehicles, and Tesla pushing innovation, that might change in the not all too distant future.

What do you think?

How can we learn from failures?

Join us in Trondheim, Norway, on 18 & 19 March as we seek to awaken the entrepreneurial mindset at Technoport 2015.

Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

i-road-4
14Hermann Ørn Vidarsson

Hermann Ørn VidarssonSeptember 26, 2014

Bigger roads or smaller cars?

Most of the cars I see in the morning traffic jam have just one person in them.

One person occupying 6 square metres of road space.

Car-sharing lanes have been trialled with mixed success, but now the car companies themselves seem to be addressing the problem.

Toyota is launching a new electric concept car for urban transportation. It’s already cooperating with France’s Grenoble and energy supply company EDF to pilot a sharing scheme for it.

It’s a small 3-wheel electric vehicle available in both a single-seat and a two-seat model – and it looks really fun to drive!

According to the Foreigner.no, it’s considered for launch in Norway.

Could smaller cars, not bigger roads, solve our the congestion problems in our cities?

At our Share the Problem on the 2nd October we are looking at the future of urban transportation.

We need a shift of paradigm in the transport sector. We just don’t have the real-estate to support the growth and we certainly don’t have the planet to continue to do as we have been doing.

We invite you on 2nd October to Share the Problem, a crowdsourcing event with a group of people from diverse backgrounds: arts, engineering and social studies. Working together, we will get a better understanding of the challenge ahead and share some new perspectives.2

We’d love to see you there – please register yourself here.

Photo credit: Toyota

Comlight
15Megan Jones

Megan JonesApril 9, 2014

Technoport 2014: Siri Skøien on entrepreneurial success

At the end of April innovators, entrepreneurs, business leaders and other technology pioneers will gather in Trondheim for Technoport 2014. In the run up to this exciting event, we will publish a series of interviews with our speakers to learn more about how they are driving innovation. This week we hear from Siri Skøien, an award-winning entrepreneur and founder of Comlight, a motion-sensing street light system to reduce energy use.

Where did you get the idea for Comlight from, and how did it start?
It really started as an idea – I had no engineering or technical experience, I come from a business background, but I knew that if I didn’t do this someone else would. So for the first year I was working alone, getting the marketing plan off the ground and starting the patenting process. And from there I worked on incorporating electrical engineering and so forth.

How did you find the process of looking for early stage funding?
It was very difficult – very difficult, even in Norway.  This was seven years ago, and I think there’s been some progress since then, but I spent a long time looking for funding. You know, I would keep calling people and I’d get 200 noes and eventually one yes, and that’s what you’re waiting for. One thing I did was I used the local press to get the word out, I tried to get coverage of all the new developments in the local press. And actually it ended up that our first investor contacted me! It may be that I got very lucky, but that’s how we started.

Since Comlight has been going for seven years, as you say, how has the product changed over time?
We’ve made some improvements to the radar detection, and recently to the backend so users like road authorities have a better computer programme to see all the lights individually and manage them. That’s been a big project.

With the radar system, the first generation of Comlight could only detect cars and trucks and other vehicles. It took two years of intensive research and development to create a system that could detect pedestrians, which is what we have now. We’re always working to incorporate market feedback to increase the functionality, and so customers can adapt the system to their needs.

So how would a pedestrian experience street lighting in a place where Comlight has been installed? I can imagine that people would be concerned about safety.
Yes. In fact, though, I often have people come to me and say, “Are you sure it’s working? I can’t see the lights turning off anywhere.” And I say, “That’s great!” That’s how it’s supposed to be. We wanted to create a product that is so effective you don’t notice that the lights are off in front of you or behind you. If you’re walking through a park you don’t want have that spotlight feeling of being lit up on a stage. This applies to cars as well. It’s about safety as well as energy savings – safety and security is a big priority. So the system is working and saving energy, but our eyes can’t detect it.

Where is Comlight going in the future?
We want to stay small and stay innovative – to always be one step ahead, because the customers are always asking for more things. We do have some work going on in Canada and the US, but for this year we are mostly focusing on Europe. Our target customers is big lighting companies like OSRAM and GE, because it’s very time-consuming to go after the end-customers ourselves. Companies like that want to offer smart lighting but they don’t have what Comlight has, so they buy our product and sell it on to road authorities, city agencies and so on.

In terms of developing the Comlight system, we’re looking to increase the functionality so it can do other things like monitor traffic, count vehicles or check speed. It’s possible to incorporate things that aren’t even connected to lighting and energy efficiency, and that’s where this technology is going.

Are you optimistic about the future of smart lighting?
Yes, I’m very optimistic. Smart cities as a concept is really taking off, and the market for smart lighting has grown a lot recently. Norway has fallen a bit behind, people tend to want to install the same systems as they always have, but still it’s increasing here too.

Smart cities are one of the biggest movements of our time, and this has really expanded even in just the last year. This is where the world is headed.

Want to hear more?

Siri will feature at our Venture Angels and Crowd Investors event at Technoport 2014. She will elaborate on the topics explored in this interview as we shed light on the future of funding new ventures. Learn more about Technoport 2014.

Image credit: Comlight AS

Transnova
1Lina Ingeborgrud

Lina IngeborgrudMarch 21, 2014

Pure electric driving pleasure: the electric car in our comfort society

The car has become an essential part of our transportation system – it gives us the flexibility and the possibility to go anywhere, anytime. Most people in Norway have a car, and almost feel as if they can´t make it through the day without it. However, the car is also a threat to our environment, responsible for 1/3 of Norway’s CO2-emissions. What impact does this have on Norwegian car users?

In January 2013, I was an intern at Transnova for three weeks, and am now writing my thesis in collaboration with them – about the electric car in our comfort society. Transnova is a governmental agency that provide grants to different projects to reduce CO2-emissions from the transportation sector. I find this very important, and in my thesis I focus on user experiences – their needs and thoughts about cars in general, and electric cars in particular. A lot of people in Norway use electric cars, and increasing their use even further has been proposed as a means of reducing emissions from private transportation. But is there a gap between the electric driving experience and the experience of comfortable transport?

Norway has the highest number of private electric cars per capita in the world. Why and how has the electric car become such a success story in Norway? First of all, there is a willingness in the political arena for supporting low-emission technologies, and the Norwegian government has given the electric car a lot of advantages compared to the petrol car. These advantages include no sales tax or duty on purchase, free parking in municipal car parks, free use of bus lanes in cities and exemption from tolls & congestion charges. These incentives will continue until at least 2017, or until there are 50,000 electric cars on the roads (there are currently approximately 23,000). What will happen to the electric car in the future? It is very important not to forget the users: what do users mean by the term ”comfort” when it comes to transportation? I wanted to find out.

My research data was gathered from 15 interviews – 8 with electric car owners (most of them had the family car Nissan Leaf) and 7 with people driving petrol cars. Most of the electric car owners had a petrol car as well, but they tried to use this only when necessary. All the electric car drivers told me their electric car felt more comfortable than their present – or earlier – petrol car. They described their electric car as a safe, environmentally friendly, economic, aesthetically pleasing and exciting technology with great driving characteristics. The petrol car drivers – on the other hand – felt guilty about the environment when they used their cars and said that this guilt diminished their enjoyment from driving.

The political incentives designed to encourage electric car usage were important in the beginning – when drivers first made the decision to go electric. However, as they became accustomed to using their electric car the relative importance of these incentives was reduced. Instead, users valued electric vehicles in terms of both the material and technical equipment, and also the rewarding feeling of being more environmentally friendly. The research found that environmental awareness and comfort were able to act in synergy to create a more pleasurable driving experience. Both electric and petrol car users valued cultural, internal and environmental values as being important in their vehicle choice. If we wish to increase the uptake of electric vehicles as much as possible, it is important that policies appeal to these values as well as the economic incentives that have been used so far.

At Technoport 2014, Transnova will participate in a Share the Problem workshop on the afternoon of Mon 28th April.

The workshop will design a conceptual “point and explain” prototype of the electric vehicle that disregards the conventional automobile as an aspirational model. Register for Technoport 2014 now to participate in the session and attend other workshops and talks from internationally renowned speakers on technology and innovation.

Image credit: Transnova

Multiple car households
60David Nikel

David NikelFebruary 3, 2014

Do you really need two cars?

Second in our series on sustainable driving is the growing trend of car collectives.

A recent study suggests car use across America is declining.

At the same time, membership in car-sharing schemes is on the up:

Global growth in car sharing

Global growth of car-sharing. Graphic by EMBARQ.

Car collectives provide a membership-based system of access to private vehicles, only when members need them, thus rendering the purchase of a car unnecessary. It began as an idealist notion but has rapidly evolved into a thriving global industry, albeit one with a long journey still to take.

Car sharing in Trondheim

There’s a car collective right here in Trondheim, so I headed down to their Sandgata office to meet the Director, Leif Tore Anderssen. Of most interest for me was discovering the biggest market for Trondheim Bilkollektiv isn’t those without a car, it’s actually multi-car families.

“People living in inner cities don’t need two cars. It’s expensive for them. Many of our members join specifically so they can sell one of their own cars”, says Anderssen.

The popularity of car sharing is growing in Trondheim. The number of available cars has increased from 10 to 50 in the last five years, located at 16 strategic locations in the city centre and suburbs. Membership in the collective now standing at a record 700.

That’s less than half of one percent of the city’s population, but this looks set to increase. The collective is targeting local businesses to join up, and talking to the owners of new residential developments about partnerships. The impressive new Grilstad Marina is a perfect example, a development of 800 brand new homes that will soon host a couple of the collective’s cars.

Interestingly, electric cars are not yet part of the car collective strategy in Trondheim.

“In the future we could have more in the collective, but for now we think until a greater percentage of our members understand how to use them and the infrastructure for charging them develops. Perhaps people could own an electric car, then use our cars for longer trips”, says Anderssen.

Because they require a critical mass of members to be economically viable, car collectives only tend to be found in urban centres. Elsewhere in Norway, schemes exist in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand and Tromsø.

So, over to you.

Does your family really need two cars?

Photo credit: Michael Greene

Tesla S
60David Nikel

David NikelJanuary 20, 2014

Can electric cars provide a more sustainable future?

Whatever the environmental concerns, it seems certain that the car is part of our future here on earth. So here on the Technoport Playground, I’ll be taking a look at innovation in the car industry, and what steps are being taken to help us achieve a safer and more sustainable future. First up, the electric car.

Right now, the best selling car is Norway is not made by Ford, Toyota, or Volvo. It’s the Tesla Model S, the world’s first premium electric sedan.

It’s so popular in Norway primarily because of a Government economic incentive package, designed to encourage 50,000 zero emission vehicles on to Norway’s roads by 2018.

The incentives include:

  • No sales tax or duty on purchase
  • Free parking in municipal car parks
  • Free use of the bus lane in cities
  • No tolls or congestion charges

Tax on buying new cars in Norway is colossal, so the first point alone is sending hoards of Norwegian drivers into Tesla showrooms.

It’s not a model that can be copied by other countries without some serious investment in infrastructure. Electric cars require electric charging stations, and Norway has one of the best developed networks outside the USA. One driver (the northernmost Tesla owner in the world!) proved it’s possible to drive all the way from Oslo to Kirkenes at an electricity cost of just NOK 400. Free charging stations are strategically placed around the country (there’s one here in Trondheim), while other for-cost stations are placed cleverly at shopping centres and even on ferries, to minimise the disruption when you need to recharge.

However, it’s not all rosy.

Despite the company’s PR stating the car performs well in winter driving conditions, some Norwegian drivers have reported problems with the charging process as the sub-zero winter temperatures have set in.

There’s also the question of how environmentally-friendly electric cars really are.

In Norway, the vast majority of the country’s electricity is generated through hydropower, but with 25,000km of coastline let alone the countless fjords, that’s easy. But for other countries that generate electricity through coal-fired power stations, electric cars will just put more pressure on an already overloaded energy grid.

One Forbes columnist went as far to claim that electric cars are an extraordinarily bad idea, arguing that they are not economically viable without substantial Government support.

So over to you.

Electric cars – part of the solution, or not?

Photo by: (CC)
11Annette Hovdal

Annette HovdalAugust 21, 2013

Another example of roadway powered electric vehicles: Online Electric Vehicle

The problem with electric cars today is the short range of driving because of the battery capacity. In addition, recharging the batteries on charging stations takes time. In a blog post published 8 July, I presented an idea developed in Sweden on roadway powered electric vehicles. In South Korea they have also been working on roadway power electric vehicles, but their idea is different.   

Researchers in South Korea have developed a vehicle, called Online Electric Vehicle, which recharges while driving. The technology is already taken into use; in the South Korean city, Gumi, two electric buses are driving a 24 kilometre route, recharging the batteries as they are driving, getting electricity of the road.

The buses are powered by two electric cables that lie under the surface of the road.  The electric cables create magnetic fields, which are converted into electricity by a receiver under the vehicle.  The technology is called “Shaped Magnetic Field in Resonance”. According to the researchers, it is not necessary that the entire road is built with cables, 5 – 15 % of the road is sufficient (nrk.no)

The core of the idea, developed in Sweden, is to place two power lines in the road.

Which solution on eco-friendly transportation do you believe the best – the Swedish power lines or the South Korean Online Electric Vehicle?

Photo by: (CC)

iphone
11Annette Hovdal

Annette HovdalAugust 5, 2013

New apps could be of great importance for Norwegian police

Two master students in computer science from NTNU are this summer working on “police apps”, which could change the way we communicate with the police, and make it easier for the police to locate us, in case of an emergency.  

On 2 August, Bergen Tidende published an article about the students Eirik Mildestveit Hammerstad and Esben Aarseth, which are working on two “police apps”. The apps will be tested in Finnmark, Norway, and the Finnmark police are looking forward testing them out, saying the apps will give unlimited opportunities.

The sooner the police can form the best possible picture of different situations happening from the operation center, the better. Esben’s app could be an important tool here.  He is working on a “112-app” which uploads the caller’s exact location when calling the emergency number. As of today, if the police get an emergency phone, they do not have the information to locate the person calling. The call could be traced, but this is very expensive. The app also has an “emergency chat” which gives you the opportunity to communicate with the police without having to call.  In addition, it will be possible for people to send pictures to the police at the operating center. The ability to receive pictures can help the police to better know what missions to prioritize.  

Eirik is working on a web-app where it should be possible to book an appointment with the police, renew your passport, submit a report, and deliver a police complaint.  

The prototypes of the apps are almost finished. If the police like the apps after testing them, it is possible that the two student’s summer projects will be realized.

 We cross our fingers, and hope the apps will be a success! 

Do you have an idea to an app of public utility?

11Annette Hovdal

Annette HovdalJuly 8, 2013

Electric Roads – the future for a carbon neutral transport sector?

Did you have an electric racetrack growing up – a racetrack where the racing cars were powered by electricity provided by a slot in the track? Volvo and an inventor in the company Elways are working on to different projects to make this possible for real life cars. The conceptis to charge the electric vehicles directly from the road, by placing two power lines in to the road. In other words, the vehicles would charge directly from the road without the need of battery

Both Volvo and Elways have started testing electric roads in Sweden. The background for this testing is the Swedish government’s aim for the Swedish transport sector to be carbon neutral by 2030. Mats Alaküla, research adviser in Volvo, believes that the concept will be demonstrated on normal roads within 5 years. He believes that the technology will be used commercially before 20 years has passed (tu.no).  

What do you think – are electric roads the answer for a carbon neutral transport sector?