Monday, May 4, 2009

Batteries Not Included

Shai Agassi stood in a warehouse on the outskirts of Tel Aviv one afternoon last month and watched his battery-swapping robot go to work. He was conducting a demonstration of the curious machine that is central to his two-year-old clean-energy company, which is called Better Place. Agassi’s grand plan is to kick-start the global adoption of electric cars by minimizing one of the biggest frustrations with the technology: the need for slow and frequent recharges. The robot is the key to his solution. Unlike most electric-car technologies, which generally require you to plug your car into a power source and recharge an onboard battery for hours, the Better Place robot is designed to reach under the chassis of an electric car, pluck its battery out and replace it with a new one, much the same way you’d put new batteries in a child’s toy. Electric cars have long been a fetish object for environmentalists: electricity can be produced from wind, solar or nuclear sources with little or no CO2. But now even the auto industry seems to be taking the idea of the alt-car seriously. When the Big Three filed their restructuring plans earlier this year, all aggressively emphasized their intentions to begin producing electric vehicles and hybrids. Read more in The New York Times here.