How the little guy worked with the big boys to innovate, delight, and inspire thousands!
Update 7/27/2015: Over 10,000 people in 10 days had a blast generating electricity on the UpCycle Ecocharger at The 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Chevrolet’s installation also set a Guinness World Record for most people generating electricity in a week (4,739)!
Check it out:
It Started Innocently Enough
In late January, 2015, I got an email from a managing engineer from Chevrolet Canada, saying they were interested in the UpCycle Ecocharger for help charging an interactive exhibit based on a concept they were developing called a Microgrid.
They were creating an interactive demonstration, and wanted pedal power to help make it more engaging.
Based on their research, the Eco-charger appeared to be durable enough for their setup, but they needed to do extensive testing to be sure it would be up to their standards.
That sounded interesting to me, but I was doubtful it would work. It was a lot of complicated electronics.
They Had Bigger Plans
After sending a DIY kit for testing, I was told it was going to be part of a display at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.
Obviously this was exciting to me, and I let them know I’d be happy to help them make it happen, given my extensive experience explaining human power since 2008.
Little did I know this would turn into such a big production, and that my little DIY kit would end up being an integral part of an international sporting event, sponsored by one of the largest auto companies in the World.
Car Companies Are Thorough
As they were testing, they put it in extreme situations (they planned on using the Ecocharger over 12 hours a day in summer heat, and were testing it in those conditions), attempting to break it. Although the generator (provided by EbikeKit.com), flywheel and stand performed flawlessly, they were able to max out the capabilities of the 300 watt inverter.
This was something I thought might happen, because the inverter I had been using was great for 95% of riders. But they understandably wanted to know it would hold up in ANY situation. With a good deal of testing and searching, they were able to find the correct inverter for their purposes, a 600 watt wind inverter with dump-load capability.
This is Really Happening!
After everything passed Chevrolet’s rigorous testing, they ordered over 10 units. They wanted to make sure they had plenty of extras in case anything went wrong.
As time went by, we discussed several possibilities for marketing, and working together in the future. Nothing is in the works yet, but there are some pretty interesting possibilities.
A Pause, Then Go Time!
In the weeks leading up to the event, I didn’t hear from them. They were working around the clock to finish the project and have it ready for the public for the start of the games.
The final production was far bigger and more involved than I had imagined it could be:
- There were 6 UpCycle Ecochargers, 4 for adults, one for kids, and one hand-crank device.
- Each “rider” had a giant TV display showing their status.
- Riders’ power was connected to a slot car that raced around the entire tent. The race track was the largest in the world.
- Riders won medals. This was pretty cool for attendees of an athletic event like this to also have a chance to medal.
- All of the riders’ power was charging up Chevy Volt batteries, but this was not the main focus. The main focus was friendly competition.
- This was like a ride at Disneyland in the size and scope, and there were huge lines to participate.
- The UpCycle Ecocharger DIY kit passed Chevrolet’s testing with flying colors
- You can buy the same setup used at the Pan Am Games for your home or group installation, knowing you’re getting the proven and tested best pedal generator kit in the world.
- It works great when people can try it out in a fun, competitive setting, because the experience is more than just answering the question, “what can I power?”
- Over time, the accumulated watt hours of all the participants will be a number big enough to impress, educate, and excite others.
- I learned a lot about product development at a corporate level: They needed a lot of lead time, because anything less than the best can’t be tolerated.
A Partnership Based on Respect
At any time, they could have easily reverse engineered my product and cut me out of the process, but they did not. To the contrary, they provided me with great resources and information about how to improve my product, and paid full price for everything.
Upgrading the System
We now use that same inverter Chevrolet found. Even though it is overkill and more than 2X the capacity of what most people will ever produce, it is also awesome!
How it works:
Me using it: