As the founder of EV Safe Charge, Caradoc Ehrenhalt is a big believer in electric vehicles.
So much so that he started the downtown-based company to provide electric charging stations, first in residential and then in commercial buildings.
And now he is pivoting again and getting into mobile charging stations with Ziggy, a battery on wheels.
After all, one of the barriers to mass electric vehicle adoption is charging anxiety, or the worry that a vehicle would run out of power before reaching a charging station.
Ziggy will stand about 6 feet tall and operate on four independent wheels, and will have cameras on all four sides. The mobile robot uses all-wheel steering to ensure it can get up and down ramps, maneuver over speed bumps and turn tight corners.
“Weight is concentrated at the bottom with the battery at the bottom, so it is very stable,” Ehrenhalt explained.
How it works is very simple: a driver uses an app to have Ziggy come to their car or reserve a space for their vehicle. Ziggy shows up, the driver plugs in and then can go to work, shopping, the gym or somewhere else and will be notified when the charging is complete. When the customer returns to her car they’ll unplug Ziggy, which will then roll back to its home base for charging or be picked up and taken offsite.
A driver would pay each time they use Ziggy at a price determined by the site owner. A site could also offer the service for free.
“Some may want to subsidize the use of Ziggy and cover partial charging costs, for employees for example, and so on,” Ehrenhalt said. “We will help guide sites every step of the way as they determine how they want to implement and use Ziggy.”
The Ziggy functional demonstrator robot has been built and is entering the next phase as it nears the manufacturing stage, Ehrenhalt said.
The idea is to make them in the areas they will serve, he added. He expects unites to be delivered in late 2023 or early 2024.
Some customers have already ordered Ziggy for their properties, including a Holiday Inn Express in Redwood City; Opera Plaza, a mixed-use development in San Francisco; and The William Vale, a luxury hotel in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.
David Lemmond, the general manager of the Brooklyn hotel, said its guests and neighbors would benefit from the technology. “Ziggy is perfect for the growing demand for easier charging solutions,” Lemmond said in a statement.
EV Safe Charge still provides charging stations to residential and commercial customers.
Its business model with Ziggy, however, is to lease the robot to parking lots and garages, event venues, restaurants and hotels, who will then decide who will have access to use the units.
“For example a company may want to have some Ziggy units for employees only,” Ehrenhalt said. “Sites will also decide how they want to allow for access, and in most cases this will be done via an app.”
As battery technology improves, the company can easily recycle existing batteries and replace them with new versions, he added.
Ziggy takes the whole charging experience from being a capital expense to being an operating expense because the parking garage does not have to spend any money on charging infrastructure, Ehrenhalt continued.
“That is very exciting for the sites where they now have a monthly fee going forward and they don’t have to have a huge cash outlay at the beginning,” he said.
EV Safe Charge has raised about $1.5 million in private financing since being founded by Ehrenhalt in 2016. Its financing has come from angel investors including Mountain View-based Sand Hills Angels.
Drue Freeman, a Sand Hills Angels board member, said the firm invested in EV Safe Charge because it believed that the acceleration of electric vehicle adoption will result in a growing shortage of fixed-charging capacity.
The cost of retrofitting existing parking structures for EVs can be cost-prohibitive for operators and landlords, and it would be inefficient to install a sufficient amount of fixed-charging capacity to meet demand in every parking lot, Freeman said.
“Ehrenhalt and EV Safe Charge had the vision and foresight to create a simple and elegant solution that we believe will unlock the potential of the EV market,” Freeman added in a statement.
“At EV Safe Charge, we are thrilled to have Sand Hill Angels among our angel investors and participating on the board,” said Ehrenhalt in a release.
Carl Norman, president of Capstone Financial Group, an international investment bank in the automotive and mobility space with West Coast offices in San Jose, said the firm was excited about Ziggy and believes the robot will be well received by the EV market because it represents a cost-effective alternative that simplifies the EV charging infrastructure.
“We look forward to Ziggy moving into production and to partnering with parking operators, office and residential landlords, hotels, event venues and more to support the future of flexible charging needs,” Norman said in a statement.
Setting itself apart
Ehrenhalt said there are several differentiators between Ziggy and fixed-charging stations, including the cost-effectiveness of the robot and the flexibility of the system.
“With Ziggy, you have complete flexibility where you have the home base or the charging off-site and then if a tenant comes in with some EV drivers and the company wants to have some more chargers, the site can easily add some more Ziggy units,” he said.
But what about the name – Ziggy?
Ehrenhalt said that as he thought about what to call his robot he wanted a name that would be memorable and would work well internationally. He is a big fan of David Bowie and his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust, and likes Ziggy Marley, son of reggae pioneer Bob Marley, he said.