Innovation & Design

Gold Award: Electric Car Recharging Station


NewDealDesign and Better Place teamed up to create a car recharging tower called the Charge Spot, and won themselves an IDEA gold award

One day, recharging stations for electric cars might be much more common than gas stations. If NewDealDesign has its way, they won't look at all the same, however. The San Francisco design shop has teamed up with e-car venture Better Place to create the Charge Spot, an electricity outlet that received the gold medal in 2009's International Design Excellence Awards.

NewDealDesign, founded and financed by Gadi Amit, its president, borrowed from its experience with consumer-electronics clients such as Dell (DELL), Fujitsu, Nokia (NOK), and Palm (PALM) to create the Charge Spot. The slender and sleek column looks a bit like a sidewalk traffic barrier with a blue plastic top. Amit calls it a "mini-tower of electric power."

Better Place's goal is to have these electricity outlets built wherever people might park their cars for long stretches—parking lots, garages, and streets. Motorists would plug one end of a heavy-duty extension cord into the top of the Charge Spot and the other into a port on their vehicles. Within six hours, their cars would be fully juiced and good to go.

"We want to make the electric vehicle a normal, widespread car, not just for the 'crazy' green guy," says Amit, 46, who started NewDealDesign in 2000.

New Generation Chargers

Better Place, established by Shai Agassi in Palo Alto, Calif., in 2007, is trying to create the infrastructure for battery-powered cars. It is also working with Renault-Nissan to design a new electric vehicle. First-generation recharging fixtures were patterned after gasoline pumps, with a power cord instead of a hose. NewDealDesign chose a different model: chargers for portable devices such as laptops, cell phones, and iPods.

"Design is hugely important," says Joe Paluska, Better Place's chief marketing officer. "The Charge Spot also has to be consumer friendly, not a big Coke can with a fire hose."

The tower also houses digital electronics for recording charges and billing motorists' accounts. The Charge Spot team, drawn from NewDealDesign's staff of 12 designers, removed hinges and doors from the first prototypes, simplified the display screen, and changed some internal components, reducing cost to about one-tenth of earlier designs, says Paluska. Each spot can also charge two cars at once.

The Charge Spot designers knew they had it right after running the device by an electricity-wary 70-year-old woman—Amit's mom.

Better Place launched the Charge Spot last December in Israel, where 900 of a planned 100,000 have been deployed in preparation for the upcoming launch of its electric vehicle. Charge Spots are scheduled to come to California in 2012 and will be installed in Hawaii, Ontario, Denmark, and Australia. Other companies are working on similar projects around the world, including Coulomb Technologies of Campbell, Calif.

Amit hopes the charging stations will eventually be no more foreign than parking meters. "The design really hits the sweet spot in terms of serving a lot of constituents," he says.

Venessa Wong is an innovation and design writer for BusinessWeek.

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