Electric scooters are a great antidote to catching mass public transport, and are incredibly efficient in terms of people movers.
But for Monash university student Julian O’Shea, they can also carry an important message – one of sustainable mobility, and in a post-Covid world, a change in our mode of transport.
To get his message across, O’Shea has patented a solar-powered e-scooter he has dubbed the “Helio Scooter” as part of his PhD project at Melbourne’s Monash university.
The Monash Mobility Design Lab student says his idea was borne out of a 2018 project he took part in that saw students drive a solar-powered tuk tuk up the east coast of Australia.
“I kind of fell in love of communicating important issues through interesting adventures and vehicles,” O’Shea tells The Driven.
“Electric scooters are amazing, they are remarkably efficient as far as energy use goes per person – it’s one of the most energy efficient modes of transport on the planet.”
The patent, which was granted in July, describes an electric scooter with vertically mounted solar panels that can be folded out to maximise energy collection when parked.
“One of the limitations of e-scooter is you need to be connected to the grid to charge them up,” says O’Shea.
“The idea is to make them self-sufficient, and to show also visually they are sustainable mode of transport.
“The challenge with e-scooters is the small footprint,” O’Shea adds. “How do you get enough surface area onto something so small?”
O’Shea’s approach to this challenge is to mount a small set of panels vertically onto the front of the scooter.
This provides some aerodynamic form to the scooter. When charging, the panels can then be folded out flat for optimal solar collection.
Will we be seeing solar-powered scooters on the streets of Melbourne any time soon?
Unfortunately, the current coronavirus restrictions have, for now, put a hold on further developing a working prototype.
But O’Shea says that once restrictions are lifted he will be testing panel size and physical mechanisms within a matter of weeks to work out what will enable him to develop a scooter that essentially charges itself under normal use (about 30-60 riding minutes a day).
“I’m itching to do it,” says O’Shea. “My vision for it is to be a scooter that you never need to plugin for normal use.”
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.