TodayApril 15, 2022

Atlas shrugs off gasoline creates electric suburbs

Volta creates a product called Atlas and it is electric

This week upstart electric car company Polestar talked with Volta a company that has created Atlas, an EV charging station placement conforming to existing driver behavior. The electric highway and electric home are in the process of creation. The electric suburb, based on where you travel daily is an addition to the electric highway and electrify at home.

From the outside, Polestar the brand seems to have everything going for it. It has partners, factories, and suppliers. It needs to launch an electric vehicle business successfully. But there are a couple of problems, and working with Volta may be one of the solutions.

Unlike Tesla, Polestar doesn’t have massive brand capital. Like many companies in the auto startup space, it has a lot to prove. Electrification has redefined how many of us get from A to B. Not only has it transformed the 135-year-old role of the automobile, but it has also challenged everything we thought we knew about personal transportation and the consumer’s willingness to invest in new technological ideologies.

Polestar’s CEO Thomas Ingenlath doesn’t strike you as the kind of guy who is going to get into a Twitter spat with Thai cave rescue workers. Before Ingenlath joined Polestar, he worked in positions at both Volkswagen and Volvo. He became CEO of Polestar in 2017 after working as chief designer in roles at Skoda and VW.

Ingenlath and Volta understand the advantages the new product called Atlas will have on making electric vehicles successful. One key innovator within this realm is executive and entrepreneur Praveen Mandal. The current Chief Technology Officer of Volta Charging, Mandal, launched his career with pioneering work in the smart charger space when he co-founded ChargePoint in 2007.

At the last count, Polestar has three models;

  • The Polestar Digital Model—On the customer’s terms—100% online, including trade-in and lease/financing—Facilitated through a franchised retail network
  • The Polestar Retail Model—Polestar “Spaces”: Our brick and mortar locations—Educate, inform, inspire—Premium retail real estate—Service was done in a secondary location
  • Space Location Strategy—Challenges as an EV-only brand—Challenges as a startup brand—Our unique approach—Current and planned network

Polestar is essentially a spin-off of Volvo – which is very different from Tesla, with its own independent brand. But it is also an OEM, meaning that it will face many of the same challenges as its rivals.

Atlas - Polestar and Volta electric
Atlas – Polestar and Volta electric

The second issue comes from the cars and the charging. Atlas is talking with Polestar to all EV charging station placement that conforms to existing driver behavior from the technology element – the real selling point of this new wave of EVs.

Mandal is the inventor of the networked charging station concept, which transformed the technology from a passive one into an active, adaptable system that serves as the foundation of almost all charging stations today. Atlas combines the stations and the cars with a dynamic compute and communication infrastructure that enables driver notifications, station visibility and control, reservation systems, and billing services.

“I’m an R&D guy,” he says, hinting that research and development people are the ones who make things happen: that nuts and bolts skill set that has been responsible for everything from the creation of computer systems to the formation of the internet. And while the statement can seem grandiose, Mandal emphasizes that practical innovation is often evolutionary, not revolutionary, combining elements that we know to leapfrog forward.

For instance, he cites the networked charger’s development as taking two already established technologies – charging stations and cell phone technology – and combining them into a hybrid hardware piece. The connected charger was born by embedding a processor with a CDMA chipset into a charging device and linking it to a client-server architecture.

Electric smart chargers

While he refers to smart chargers as “Act One” of the story, Volta’s next chapter is being written as we speak. Using machine learning technology, Mandal promises to further differentiate the scope of Volta’s services. And here’s where broad experiences bring innovation to the table: he is co-founder of the data sciences company predict and appointed as a Fellow at MIT Connection Science, a group involved in advances in blockchain, artificial intelligence, and computational social sciences.

“A key step towards progress is stepping beyond your immediate professional bubble and into a new bubble,” he says, insisting that the multidisciplinary approach will help build Volta to provide a more adaptable, future-proof charger network. “I’m all about cross-bubble pollination,” he says.

We have arrived at a unique moment in history when the oil industry’s vulnerability appears to be at an all-time high, and the momentum behind electric vehicles is greater than ever.

Dubbed internally as ‘Atlas’, it uses an extensive data set based on a wide number of parameters, from driving patterns to population distribution. It takes into account dwell time at chargers to model out driver behavior and output the best locations to place charging stations so that you don’t get the stranded asset problem you see in today’s infrastructure deployment. This will put Volta at the forefront to make their expanding charging network future-proof.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence play integral roles in optimizing the charger network’s expansion, helping pave the way for more widespread EV adoption. This new model takes every piece of the puzzle into account – from the electrical grid’s impact to improvements to air quality and the health, societal, and economic benefits of implementing these changes.

An expansive EV charging network will be seamlessly integrated into daily life based on advances that ultimately make driving an electric vehicle more stress-free and environmentally friendly than ever.

Ask any DUI lawyer about the importance of this stuff, and they’ll tell you it’s critical for the industry’s future. Converting cold, hard data into a highly dynamic ecosystem intended to modernize urban transportation is no small feat. But Mandal and his team are defining how the next wave of smart, connected chargers will drive the widespread adoption of electric vehicles, one that conforms to existing behavior versus having to drive new behaviors.

There are reasons to be optimistic about what Polestar and Volta are doing. The company is entering a market right at the point where it is about to boom. It is hard to imagine that Tesla will remain the only viable player on the block. Other car companies are getting their acts together and challenging the industry leader for dominance.

Atlas - Polestar and Volta electric charging non-legacy brands
Atlas – Polestar using Volta electric charging in cities and suburbs

Polestar will be able to take advantage of the Volta/Atlas charging units in the suburbs and the electric highway. Atlas allows both companies to answer the question, What is the EV adoption rate going to be in my region, so that I can meet demand?

The strategy for electric is simple;

  • Expand strategically based on a market’s potential and distance from existing Polestar Spaces
  • Polestar is currently up and running in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. In 2021 will add Boston, Washington DC, South Florida, Austin, and Denver. Volta is already in all major designated market areas. 
  • Scale-up sales and service reach to nationwide coverage is a current priority
  • The 150 mile pick up and delivery radius for service will enable over 85% of the addressable market by the end of 2022
Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.

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