Louw & Mik are 3rd year students @ Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), Daryn Molenaar & Johann van Niekerk are both staff there. The electric push scooter has flowed out of an alternative transport project in their 2nd year, into a collaborative project and now into a small start-up called eLabs that is focused on city transport.
Mik describes the scooter as “a piece of Africa”, emphasising the importance of community involvement and sourcing local materials. Louw pointed out how thrilling it is to show off the high technological standards achieved when South Africa was forced to be self-sufficient, but applied to a sustainable project with benefits for the communities who suffered back then. Unfortunately some of the components do currently need to be sourced overseas, but will probably be replaced with local ones if equivalents become available. They stressed the importance of considering the long-term socio-economic benefits of choosing local wherever possible.
The scooter can currently do 25 km/h for 25km and charges for 2,5hrs; but they are still improving it. The new battery they are working on should be able to do 30km and charge in 1,5 hrs, and the new variable watt motor should be able to climb Kloof Nek without significant slowing.
Other future improvements they are working on are a folding mechinism so that it can be stowed under your desk while charging, although it is currently compact enough to go into a myCiti bus and elevators, and light enough(12kg) to carry up single flights of stairs, it is a little unwieldy to stow at work. The planned motor and battery update should further bring down the weight, making it easier to carry when needed. eLabs also want to make the Watt solar chargeable for the sea travelers who expressed interest in it. They would need to charge the Watt aboard so that it is ready for use when they dock. Solar chargers also makes it a suitable option for those living off the grid.
Other groups who have expressed interest include large tertiary campuses like Rhodes University where some form of subsidised or communal ownership program could aid student commutes between classes and residences.
There have also been proposals to use the scooter for other group uses such as riot control, security or catering management at large venues where Segways are sometimes used, because the centre of gravity is much lower on a Watt and it is local.
Both Louw and Mik kept stressing their focus on being sustainable. Louw said that designers have a responsibility that is integral to the design process. This responsibility requires thought before choosing parts and materials which, for example, is why none of their batteries have lead. Louw went on to say that consumerism is so ingrained that designers need to make their products easy to update, upgrade, repair, and recycle to make sustainability work. This is what they are trying to ensure in the Watt. The Watt is still under development, but they hope to launch to the public at Design Indaba 2015. (They are still looking for investors to help make this a reality).
You Tube video of the Watt scooter in action.
Both Louw and Mik have prior studies. Louw has been selling furniture for years before Haldane Martin recommended that he study 3D/industrial design at CPUT. He says the scooter makes for an interesting change from working with wood for furniture. He started making furniture fir a living in the UK when he became disillusioned with the world of marketing, and subsequently became disillusioned with the state of furniture ‘design’ in SA upon his return which is why he chatted to Haldane Martin about it.
Louw is still involved in wooden furniture production, and was one of the Design Indaba Emerging Creatives this year. Feel free to have a look at his profile there & see his latest chair. Its natural organic lines are very different to the scooter, but so is the material, production method and almost everything else, except the design philosophy. Louw actually recommends that designers work broadly, saying that it encourages the brain to make more connections and to be more creative.
Mik also has a business background. His previous studies being from the Netherlands where he studied International Business Administration for a year and a half before realising that his interior designer aunt was correct when she said he should pursue industrial design.
It is striking how both men pursued a life in business, thinking it would be the ‘suited’ life for them, but found that it made them miserable; looked back at what they enjoyed and were good at as children, and turned to industrial design. Chuckling, Louw said, “I’m happy. I get to play in the workshop everyday.”
Louw’s key advice to fellow designers and design aspirants is “You’ve gotta be hungry!” When questioned on this, he said it may mean going physically hungry to get your work out there at times, but at the least, it means having a strong drive and passion to get the job done. Mik stressed the need for initiative. He says to always apply creativity to get the job done. Whether they lean slightly towards the perspiration or the inspiration, one thing they seem to agree on, is the strong need to love what you are doing.
It is through that passion for what they both love, that they are now attempting to improve the wold around them, instead of just improving themselves. This is what Africa, and South Africa in particular, needs more of. This passion to empower others is at heart of true Ubuntu spirit.
CatT’s Words of Wisdom:
(insights from this interview)
Doing what you love, or at least making the choice to love what you are doing, is empowering, and enables you to have this passion to empower others. Doing something purely for the money is like regular consumerism, its not sustainable, and it bleeds your soul dry till you can’t serve your community
For 2015 update click here.