Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Project: No more IC engines

Now that I have been vegetating and traveling for 2.5 months, I am just starting to look at things that others are working on, the type of projects that sound interesting.

I read this article in the paper edition of Wired Magazine today, and was very impressed with what Shai Agassi is attempting to do. I don’t know if his plan is even feasible, but the sheer audacity of the idea is what impressed me the most. Imagine doing away from Internal Combustion engines altogether. No wonder Shimon Peres called his guy's phone directly.
Agassi dealt with the battery issue by simply swatting it away. Previous approaches relied on a traditional manufacturing formula: We make the cars, you buy them. Agassi reimagined the entire automotive ecosystem by proposing a new concept he called the Electric Recharge Grid Operator. It was an unorthodox mashup of the automotive and mobile phone industries. Instead of gas stations on every corner, the ERGO would blanket a country with a network of "smart" charge spots. Drivers could plug in anywhere, anytime, and would subscribe to a specific plan—unlimited miles, a maximum number of miles each month, or pay as you go—all for less than the equivalent cost for gas.

A couple of quotes from the article that resonated:
Shimon Peres: My great advantage is that I'm ignorant. My own mentor was David Ben-Gurion. He used to say all experts are experts for things that did happen. There are no experts for things that may happen.

They were joining the cause, not just the company. "Once you have a mission," Agassi told me over dinner one night last winter, "you can't go back to having a job."
Be sure to check out the article.

Addendum: When I read the following quote by Buckminster Fuller, I immediately thought of this article.
"To build a new system you don't compete with the old one, you build a new system that makes the old one obsolete."


Arvind said...


I find the idea intriguing. I am also amazed that no one talks of better public transport as a reasonable alternative. Curious if thats because we value independence of cars way too much or is public transit just not a solution given urban sprawl in the US.


Ram said...


When the public transport is good (frequent and affordable) it is great. I used to use it in Buffalo (awful in winter) and those who use it in suburban Chicago (non-Metra) find it quite time-consuming.

Without fail, no matter which country, I find that a good public transportation system is a huge factor in how much we end up liking a city.

Finally, I have a (completely untested) hunch/rule about the US suburban commuters:
For every one dollar increase in the price per gallon of fuel, 10% of car commuters will switch over to public transport.

Lots of caveats apply, but if the rule is even roughly true, it will take a huge increase in the per-gallon price to move enough people over.