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Otago team Canada-bound for World’s Challenge Challenge competition

Thursday 24 May 2018 8:42am

EHop team image
The E-Hop team: Rebecca Good, Nick White, and Carolyn Ding.

EHop logo image

Drivers’ worries about battery range – the distance an electric vehicle (EV) can travel before needing to be charged – are a significant barrier to the expansion of the EV market here in New Zealand and globally. Thanks to a trio of Otago Law students, so-called battery range anxiety may soon be a thing of the past.

Three Otago students - Rebecca Good (Law and Politics), Nick White (Law and History), and Carolyn Ding (Law and Accounting) will next week be representing New Zealand in the World’s Challenge Challenge – a four-day innovation competition aimed at generating solutions to significant global issues.

Competing against 15 teams from eight different countries, the trio will present their idea to a panel of judges in the hopes of taking home the top prize: $30,000 CAD (almost $34,000 NZD) to advance their concept.

The trio’s project, E-Hop, is aimed squarely at overcoming battery range anxiety and increasing the number of EVs on New Zealand roads.

“E-Hop is like Airbnb, but for electric vehicle charging points,” Rebecca explains.

“Anyone (people, shops, cafes and other businesses) who has a standard wall plug or electric car charger could become a charging host on the E-Hop app by offering up their plug or charger for use by members of the public who need to charge their electric vehicle.”

App users, or "hoppers" as they're called, would use their mobile device to browse a map of E-Hop host locations, known as “landings”, and request permission from the host to reserve their charging station for a particular time period. Once approved by the host, the booking is confirmed and charging may commence.

Payment will be based on either a kilowatt hour basis or on booking duration, and will be seamlessly integrated into the booking process.

Like Airbnb, E-Hop will rely on user and host ratings to vouch for the reliability and quality of either party involved in the booking.

The team’s extensive research into the New Zealand EV market revealed major gaps in the country’s electric car charging infrastructure, especially in regional and rural areas, preventing the uptake of EVs.

“E-Hop is designed to fill these gaps, while also encouraging people to install faster EV chargers in their homes.”

The team formed earlier this year ahead of Otago’s local World’s Challenge Challenge competition.

“When brainstorming ideas for the competition, we looked into a range of different areas which we could focus on, but electric vehicles kept coming up, because they're such a hot button issue right now.

“We then tried to break down the issue of why EVs aren't really taking off. From there, it was a sort of eureka moment – how about Airbnb, but for electric cars – could that work?”

This is the second year in a row Otago students have represented New Zealand at the World’s Challenge Challenge. The global event is held annually at Western University in London, Ontario.

Following the team’s 5–7 minute presentation, the E-Hop team will be grilled with questions from the audience. Nick says it’s one aspect of the competition the students have been spending a lot of time preparing for.

“We’ve been doing a lot of research for the post-presentation questions time.”

The team has had plenty of help along the way.

Kiri Lenagh-Glue (Computer Science and Classics), who competed last year at the inaugural international World’s Challenge Challenge competition, met with the team several times to give them an idea of what to expect, tips on what worked well last year, and areas this year’s team should aim to improve on.

“She’s been phenomenal,” says Carolyn.

Associate Professors Ben Schonthal (Theology and Religion) and Sebastian Filep (Tourism), were both judges in the local Otago rounds of competition which team E-Hop would ultimately win.

Both have since been providing the E-Hop team with coaching advice and feedback ahead of next week’s international competition.

With hours of preparation, several practice sessions, and a full “mock competition” now under their belts, Associate Professor Schonthal says the team is ready for the global final.

“I don’t want to put added pressure on them, but in my only-slightly biased opinion, I’d say they stand a darn good chance of winning!”

For their part, the team is single-minded about what they plan to do if they win: “Make E-Hop into a reality.”