I recently had the opportunity to speak at length with Nathan Yang, FLO’s Product Manager, about the design, evolution and reliability of electric vehicle charging stations. We also talked about the differences in customer base in the electric vehicle landscape and providing a complete, useful and memorable user experience. Listen to the full podcast discussion through the built-in SoundCloud player below or on your favorite podcast network, or skip ahead for a little recap of what we talked about.
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I started by asking Nathan about FLO’s customer base – who the customer base is and how it has changed over the past few years. He noted that it has become very diverse, ranging from single-family and multi-family residences to commercial and government. However, he also pointed out that there are notable geographic differences. In Vancouver, they are providing many more charging stations to multi-family buildings. In the rest of Canada and most of the United States, they mainly sell charging stations to single-family homes in the residential sector.
I also asked about the fact that while “level 3” fast charging has changed dramatically over the last few years (especially increasingly faster), “level 2” charging as you made at home, in the workplace or in certain stores has essentially held steady. It didn’t really go any faster. Part of the reason is that level 2 loaders are relatively straightforward tools that do the job they’re supposed to do. This is in part because using this power level keeps the device within the standard of other appliances and electrical uses, and thus allows for easy installation and management, regardless of where the charger is located. is hosted. Part of the reason is that the level 2 charging speed doesn’t really need to increase in most common applications. There is little to no benefit with faster home charging for many people, for example. Nathan pointed out that we haven’t had to improve how a hose and faucet works in a long time, because they just work, and the same goes for level 2 chargers.
The To However, I asked Nathan what improvements FLO has made over the years to their EV charging station solutions to make them better and better. Since FLO provides both level 2 and level 3 chargers, he pointed out some improvements on both. On the residential / level 2 side, they have devoted time and resources to creating more infrastructure options (regarding terminals, cable management, etc.) and they have also received more and more requests for integration into their connected home systems / networks.
I then dug deeper and asked about the top 3-5 improvements they’ve made to their charging stations over the past few years. Its answer: 1) Improve sturdiness and durability when used outdoors, including being designed to withstand extreme ice, snow, sun and the cars themselves entering stations. 2) Improvements in cable management. Since stations are usually unattended, they have spent a lot of time trying to make cable and connector management as easy as possible and less and less prone to user error, tangling, disconnection or disorder. 3) Trying to simplify the user experience at all levels.
I then mentioned a new pet peeve of mine. When I returned to Florida a few years ago with my wife and daughters, we were happy to find a bunch of new or somewhat new charging stations in the area in stores, parks, offices, etc. However, in just a few short years, the screens of many of them have become virtually unusable. The clear plastic on the front has been destroyed to the point that you cannot see what is displayed on the screen behind. With this issue in mind, I asked about the work and methodology of FLO to develop stations that hold up really well over the long term. He pointed out that they choose parts that are designed for outdoor use and for the type of use that occurs in a charging station (which I didn’t ask for, but I guess that means the keys and the cards regularly touch the screen of drivers trying to activate the charge, among other things). He also referred to their design to perform well in “freezing cold in Canada or hot and humid weather in Florida”. (I sometimes wonder if too many EV tests or EV charging stations are done in the mild California climate, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case with FLO at least.)
Nathan also brought service and supervision into the conversation. âMost of the things that work very well, they are maintained or monitored. Umâ¦ good point. âLike a gas station usually has an attendant. Someone tears off a gas pump, a cable, the pipe; they see it, and they will replace the pipe. And the same with telecommunications – your cell tower works because it’s monitored, and if something goes wrong, AT&T, Verizon, whoever knows how to send someone there. And so we do the same thing, and there are companies that would do that too, where you would monitor your system, and when you notice something is not – you know, sometimes you go to a charger and you notice that it’s not charging fast enough – it’s probably because something is worn out inside. … Now, you can watch that. You may find out, ‘oh, one of the 6/12/15/2 power modules has failed. I should send a technician to replace it and investigate the problem.
Nathan also focused on a topic that I think many Tesla fans and followers will appreciate: the power of vertical integration, especially in a relatively new, rapidly growing and rapidly changing market. âToday, if you are vertically integrated and you develop and build everything, you control everything, you have the luxury of providing a better customer experience. So at FLO, if I take us as an example, we build the chargers ourselves, we have a cloud service and a backend to monitor them, we have a mobile app for users to try to find these chargers, and so when someone calls our phone number and says âhey, this charger isn’t workingâ we’re about to fix it because it’s all part of us. “
He also noted that when you design for people with disabilities – whether it’s color blind, poor eyesight, a mobility disability, or whatever – you often improve the experience for everyone. âUsually when you design for diversity and for users with disabilities, you actually benefit everyone. “
We also talked about the experiences that charging station customers have beyond the station itself and the importance of this environment and these broader opportunities for drivers, charging station companies and retailers. . On that topic, and in particular the benefits retail stores get from charging stations in good locations, Nathan referred to some research they’ve done. They surveyed a group of retailers who identified the average stopping time for drivers of gasoline vehicles at 77 minutes, while drivers of electric vehicles using the charging stations at these locations stayed an average of 143 minutes. That’s a lot of extra time to be tempted to buy something!
There was a lot more to the discussion, so tune in to the show for more industry insight.
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