Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

ElectricVehicleI had my first up close and personal confrontation with an electric vehicle charging station this past weekend. Having lived in Vancouver and having Ballard Power Systems be the darling little tech company that could change the world….and hasn’t…yet….leaves me with a wee bit less optimism than I would have otherwise had when it comes to alternative fuel systems for vehicles. It has little to do with the fact that I don’t believe electric vehicles can elicit a change in driving and fuel possibilities. It has more to do with the fact that I have a much better understanding of the limitations of distribution of new fuel systems.

There are some serious flaws in the use case from top to bottom of the electric vehicle (EV) that I don’t think most people think about when talking about how amazing electric vehicles are. The first is purely the convenience of use for the end user. At the end of the day, a vehicle is an object of convenience. Until batteries are able to be topped up in 5 minutes or less like a traditional gasoline engine is capable of, it will always be a novelty. Five minutes might be a bit too low of a tipping point, but it absolutely has to be less than 10 minutes. We’ve all been trained for the past 50 years or so that if that if I’m running late for a meeting and that fuel light comes on, I can swing into a gas station and be on my way again in 5 minutes. Even faster if I don’t fill the tank all the way.

chargingStation

The next issue to overcome is infrastructure. This is where the EV has an advantage over hydrogen fuel cells. We already have a solid distribution grid that is able to fuel up our soon to be herd of electric vehicles. But can it handle the load? Imagine it dinner time rolls around and 25 electric vehicles pull into driveways up and down your block. Every driver jumps out and the first thing they are going to do, after they shake the kids off their legs, is plug in their vehicle. That is 25 high amperage charging stations pumping from the grid all at once….on your block alone. Imagine this is happening on every block in your neighbourhood, in every neighbourhood in the city, in every city in north america. Trust me, I am no electrical engineer, but I have enough understanding to see the flaw in the plan here.

The charging station I saw was at Thompson Community Centre in Richmond, BC. It was just sitting there in the corner of the parking lot. It felt a bit random. I’m guessing that there must be someone in the neighbourhood that owns an electric vehicle and it made some sense to have it there. But the humor I found in the situation was that the two parking spots that could be serviced by the charging station were occupied by two not-so-economic vehicles:

EV_parking

What I found the most intriguing about the set-up was the company behind the charging station. They have an interesting business model. The company is called Charge Point and they are building a charging station platform. They’re less focused on the hardware of the charging station, and more focused on the monitoring and data that is extracted from the charging station as it is being used. Their website graphically shows all the locations of the EV charging stations they’re hooked up to, and how many times they’ve been used. I have to admit to being a wee bit underwhelmed at the usage. At quick glance, the highest number of charges one of their stations has had was 962 at the time of writing. Considering the amount of vehicles on the road, that is a VERY small percentage for usage.

Alternative fuel is fantastic in principle. I want to see us all driving around in vehicles that don’t cough ozone depleting emissions into the air with every kilometer. But we are much further from alternative fuel Utopia than I think most people realize. We’re currently rushing towards a world that is going to have a gazillion electric vehicles sitting as status symbols in garages with nowhere to go because it simply isn’t as convenient to drive as my gas guzzler.

I’m not writing this to say that EVs are a bad idea or that we should stop developing them. What I hope is for people to realize that there is far more work to be done to make these vehicles a wide spread reality than just better battery systems or more vehicles. I want to see more companies like Charge Point solving the infrastructure from a human centric perspective beyond doing it in an “If we build it, they will come” manner . Building another vehicle to plug into the full system is the easy part. How we solve the real problems of distribution, that’s the hard part. As a designer, I also believe that’s the fun part.

 

 

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RIM/Blackberry Just Jumped the Shark

If you’re standing, please sit down before you read this. If you’re part of the tech world, you know that RIM has officially changed their name to Blackberry. You also know that they have just released their latest smartphone on the Blackberry 10 OS. They have two immediate releases they are calling the Z10 and the B10. The Z10 is a touchscreen only iPhone-type phone. It is to be the first released. The B10 is a smartphone that uses the QWERTY keypad that made RI.err…Blackberry famous in the first place.

Now, this is where it starts to get stupid and you need to sit down. Seriously.

Okay, there are two more items that are showing that RI…er…Blackberry are going the way of Henry Winkler and first thing isn’t THAT bad. It was simply the canary in the coal mine for the moronocity that is coming out of Ontario right now. I was drinking my morning coffee the other day and was reading about the launch of RI…er…Blackberry’s new phones and this single sentence from the article stood out:

A QWERTY keyboard version is coming and RIM is promising at least six different BB10 devices by the end of the year.

It’s the last part of the quote that kills me. RI…er….Blackberry is promising not two, not three….but SIX new devices by the end of the year! Not only are they wading back into the big-boy pool after getting their assess handed to them upon the release of their Playbook tablet, but their wading back into the pool trying to get SIX variations of phones right. Six? Really RI…er….Blackberry? How about you kibosh the other four models you are trying to flood the market with and focus on making your two products you’ve already announced really, really damn good? Because, something tells me they’re not.

Now, here’s where I want to hop on a plane to Ontario so I can kick RI…er….Blackberry’s Chief Marketing Officer, Frank Boulben, in the nuts.

Alicia Keys as RI..er...Blackberry's Global Creative Director

 

Tada! Alicia Keys is RI…er…Blackberry’s new Global Creative Director!!! How’s that for a crapping in your design team’s Corn Flakes? I can just imagine the discussions that are going on in RI…er….BlackBerry headquarters right now.

On behalf of the executive team at RI…er…BlackBerry, I officially apologize to each and every designer, engineer, and other working grunt that has busted their ass to bring out these, presumably, six new phones in the next year. I was hoping RI…err…BlackBerry was going to pull this off. I was cheering for them. I wanted them to come back. But, this is simply too offensive. It is Marketing run amok pulling out acts of desperation. They haven’t learned a thing from the past 5 or 6 years of getting their butts kicked.

It’s time to move on.

 

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Vision

I was considering mailing it in on today’s post. There wasn’t anything that really felt as though it meant anything to me today. At least nothing worth writing about. After Friday’s post, which really did mean something, I wanted to follow it up with something just as meaningful to me.  When it wasn’t boiling out of me like it does some days, I was going to write a post on 3D printing that is something I feel is cool, but that didn’t feel inspired enough for me today. I wanted something better.  I wanted better from myself.

It’s Monday.  Not to mention the gloomiest Monday of the year according to some British Psychologist. It’s hard enough to get motivated to get out of bed with all that gloom and doom, let alone get out of the writer’s block funk and write something that carries meaning.

So, what is it that has me tweaked this morning, you asked?

Vision.

Not vision as it is related to how well I can see (I have better than average vision), rather vision related to how well I can impute my take on the world into things around me. Do I have a strong enough vision of what I want from everything and everyone around me that I can inspire, or impute, my vision upon everything around me.

I’ve decided that while I might not be mailing it in on this post, I have been mailing it in on my vision. I’ve been playing to the idea of consensus is key to success.  I’ve never believed this, though. I’ve never believed that the crowd is right. The crowd is right when it knows what it sees to be right.  But when it comes to vision, the crowd is a big group of lemmings. The crowd will leap over a cliff if the herd in front of them goes first. Like your  Mom said to them when <insert your friend from your childhood’s name here> parents let them go see “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” but you weren’t allowed – “Would you jump off a building if <insert your friend from your childhood’s name here> did that first”?

The people on this planet that get shit done – like REALLY get shit done – are the ones who create a vision and go after it. They might listen to opinion, and take guidance, but they do it their way. They don’t listen to the boo-birds and nay-sayers….because they’re everywhere. They don’t settle. They don’t do it half-assed.

Product development is rife with this.  Too many people building products by consensus. Too many people designing products and forgetting that it is your vision for the product that translates itself to everyone who will buy your product. Alex Goldfayn over at Harvard Business Review had an article that spoke about the lack of vision at CES. He called it Marketing Mistakes, but really it boils down to a complete lack of vision.

So, ya. Vision is the big thing on my mind right now.