All good things come in threes – The origin of WeCharge
We have often asked ourselves, what makes us suitable for a project like WeCharge, why are we able to put all this together. When we boil it down, three things are essential when we look at WeCharge:
- Knowledge about electric mobility, experience in dealing with hardware
- Knowledge about large scale software systems, cloud computing, mobile payment and IoT technology
- A mobile – global – entrepreneurial life style and the desire to live in a greener future
While the first two enable us to tackle such a project, the third one provides us with the motivation to do so.
The ability to develop and manufacture hardware is oftentimes underestimated. While it is most of the time hard enough to get from an idea to a working prototype, the real work normally lays in scaling it up while maintaining a consistent level of quality. We have background in both the bicycle and the Swiss watchmaking industry, giving us a lot of experience in sourcing hardware both in Europe and in Asia.
The second component of WeCharge is our background in software design and development. The experience of our team ranges from highly complex software development projects to the founding of software companies. Around the year 2009 visiting one of our friend’s factories who was about to become a major components supplier for the iPhone, we realized that there will be a smartphone in everybody’s pocket in the foreseeable future. Based on this assumption we started to think about what could be done with those devices in people’s pockets. Back then, we assumed that the smartphone has the potential to be used as a payment tool, or even a full on cash register. The project that emerged from that idea is called “BrandCloud – the Everywhere store”, and gave us a lot of experience with mobile payment and the software foundation for WeCharge.
The third component is perhaps the most important one… the willingness of living a modern, sustainable live-style being fascinated about what technology can offer to us in future and if we could use it to change the world for the better. It so happened that our boss Tzuyu, who is an avid technology lover, traded her beloved Volkswagen EOS convertible with a BMW i3 electric car. It was not only to make a change but also to better understand and feel what electric mobility means and if it really worked for her. The lucky beneficiary was her husband Andi riding this car also since they got it. As it turns out, an electric car is not only clean and silent, but also heaps of fun to drive. It would be hard to imagine going back to a combustion engine car for driving in the city.
Combining those three fields gives a pragmatic viewpoint on everyday use of electric vehicles. While battery swapping is very nice in theory, it provides a huge amount of problems in reality. Speed charging, while quite useful in some situations, is still much slower as a regular gasoline refill and quite expensive to provide.
After some months of using the i3, two things stood out in particular:
- The speed charging option was a total bust, it had not once been used.
- Driving the car into the garage every time to recharge was annoying.
If only one could secure an outside socket, so it could only be used by yourself. Well, that is easy, but what if it could sell the power to anyone who needs it as well?
BAM! One day in December 2014, the idea which could change the world!
Build a charging network as an open system. Have the sockets provided by those who have the least effort to do so, those who in turn will have the most to gain. No need for centrally provided charging network, funded by corporations or taxpayer’s money. Combine a mobile payment system with an outdoor smart socket to create a “peer-to-peer energy-trading system”. An open system which not only people can use to offer charging in a transparent way, but also companies who make cars, socket and charger suppliers and local governments who want to lead their citizens into an affordable electric mobility future without wasting money…
It is not the lack of speed charging or the limitation in battery capacity which limits the triumph of electric mobility. It is the fact that we did not yet create enough charging opportunities. Because if there is access everywhere and if there is a tool to make a deal between energy providers and energy consumers range anxiety would be a thing of the past.
It is not really an alternative to stop at random houses, ring the door bell and ask for power. Apart from the effort and the nuisance for both parties, what whould be a fair price? Using one of the few existing charging stations and paying premium for the power.
Due to his scooter concentration, Taiwan is a prime candidate for such a system. We are quite at home in the bustling streets of the Taiwanese cities, its dense scooter ecosystem and its packed streets. There, we sketched out the business model, shopped for smart sockets and played around with them, to make an in depth field analysis on how our Sockets should look like and where they could be most conveniently installed. That is also why the first concept was drawn up by Yu-Lin Chen, a Taiwanese citizen, as part of his master thesis at the RCA in London. There, it was one of the winners of the coveted Helen Hamlyn Design Award 2015.
For non-entrepreneurs it is hard to describe the excitement this project creates within our team. It feels so incredible useful and imagining a Taipei without the smell and noise of scooter exhaust pipes is a dream which seems ever more realistic.