An Ashland man is turning heads with a small, standup scooter.
With a 100-watt solar panel bolted to its handle bars, the energy to power the scooter comes directly from the sun and will briefly store in the scooter's battery.
It’s called the solarrolla, and inventor and inveterate tinkerer Brett Cameron Belan put it together in his Ashland shop in a couple weeks, using a drill, chop saw and a bag of bolts.
On a hot, clear day, it fully charges even while he's riding it. On a cloudy day, it still gets some charge. Belan figures that if he drives it for an hour, he needs to charge it for an hour.
The tiny “dashboard” is really just a cellphone and an app that provides information on voltage, usage and power, and it uses GPS and bluetooth speaker to tell you where you are.
Belan, who previously built a large solar panel atop his Volkswagen bus, is a graduate of Michigan Tech, a public research university where he got his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1997. He went on to work for Ford in Detroit and Jaguar in England.
Now, however, Belan, 44, disparages the idea of driving to market in an expensive 2-ton car just for a bag of groceries, noting there is no reason a shopper couldn't instead hop on a “grocery grabber” scooter and do it with no waste of atmosphere-destroying fossil fuels — and at the same time find easy parking.
“I made it stupid simple, with controls for solar and battery," he says. "It’s on the road where solar power and electric vehicles come together — and it has that freedom of taking the charger with you.”
As drivers move into the age of electric vehicles, people have “range anxiety,” which is a subtle panic that they will exceed their range and find themselves sitting in the middle of nowhere with no charging station nearby.
“This mitigates addiction withdrawal from range anxiety,” he jokes. “You can be out camping and not only can you run anything (electrical) that you like, but you can charge from the sun and go. On a sunny day, you can drive indefinitely, stopping for an hour here or there. It’s a solar chariot.”
The solar scooter has two small wheels on the back and one in front. A rear platform holds a basket for groceries. The driver stands at all times.
It will go under 25 mph, so it’s not a motorcycle. Going 15 or 20 mph is more realistic in town, he says. The scooter is designed to go anywhere a bicycle can go — on the Bear Creek Greenway and in bike lanes and, with care, on streets.
Belan estimates the cost at this point is about $1,500.
Under Oregon law, ORS 801.348, electric (or combustion) scooter drivers are not required to have a license, registration or insurance, but must be 16 and must wear a helmet. Passengers are not allowed and the vehicles cannot exceed 24 mph. Local jurisdictions can set their own restrictions on usage.
“On a summer day, it’s so much fun. You have the charger with you, and sun is spilling out of the sky. Energy is always coming in.”
Belan's website is solarrolla.com. Pre-orders and a Kickstarter campaign are on the horizon.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.