Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
May 6, 2019
Team designs smart solution to electric vehicle maintenance: a modular battery
It is an inescapable fact. Vehicles require maintenance. There is a whole service industry that has been established to maintain the combustion engine. We now have electric vehicles on the road but not the robust ecosystem in place to provide maintenance for these vehicles. Oberon Technologies, a venture of five current and former UCalgary students, is working to provide a smart solution to one aspect of electric vehicle maintenance: the battery.
The two founding members of Oberon Technologies, Tanner Ober and Roger Hull met through Team Zeus (Zero Emissions UCalgary Superbike), a UCalgary club that is focused on electric motorsports. The club typically attracts Schulich School of Engineering students but Hull, an accounting student at the Haskayne School of Business, was drawn to join.
“I joined Team Zeus simply because I wanted to try something new and because I had an interest in electric vehicles,” says Hull. “The club offered me a fantastic opportunity to learn about accounting and business, hands-on with some really smart people as we ran the club together.”
The team is pictured above, from left: David Atkins-Apeldoorn, Daniel Sieben, Roger Hull, Tanner Ober and Rajiv Parmar. Roger Hull has been selected as one of 12 finalists across Canada for the Enactus 2019 Student Entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurship and innovation come together
Hull also has a keen interest in entrepreneurship, sparked by Entrepreneurship and Innovation 317, a required course for all Haskayne students. The skills learned in this class primed Hull to see the opportunity in the technology club members were developing.
“He learned the seven skills of entrepreneurial thinking in ENTI 317 and then applied them to this new venture so well,” says Houston Peschl, instructor of entrepreneurship, innovation and sustainable development at the Haskayne School of Business. “These skills take practice, and the more Roger pursues this amazing opportunity, the more developed his skills will become.”
“Oberon started at a pitch competition called the Innovation Reactor at the Hunter Hub,” says Hull. “Without a business model, I invited a couple of the Zeus engineers to go and create a business model and pitch. Within 48 hours, we put together the idea, pitched, and won!”
They added three team members: David Atkins-Apeldoorn, a mechanical engineer in his final year at the Schulich School of Engineering; Daniel Sieben, a current student pursuing his master's in mechanical engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering; and Rajiv Parmar, UCalgary alumnus with his master's in electrical engineering and an MBA.
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Technology offers both cost and environmental savings
The Oberon Technologies team has designed a patentable unique modular battery pack that allows for local servicing. There are over 7,000 individual cells in a battery for an electric vehicle. The average life of each of these cells varies. If one cell dies early it can cause the others around it to fail, significantly reducing the overall life of the battery.
The individual cell can be replaced, much like an oil change, prolonging the entire lifespan. This new design has both cost and environmental savings, eliminating the need to ship batteries for repair and making the most of the resources in each unit.
“Having Roger on the team allowed us engineers to focus on the technology and building the battery,” says Atkins-Apeldoorn, who does impact modelling for the project. “He is incredibly competent and we have complete faith in him when it comes to raising funds and managing budgets.”
New partners help move project forward
The team has entered several more case competitions, testing their business model and refining along the way.
“The more we go into it the more we see benefits we originally didn’t see,” says Atkins-Apeldoorn. By focusing on a failure that is often seen under warranty, there might be an incentive for manufacturers to look at their solution to save costs. As well, providing local service will also help hold the value for used vehicles.
Each competition has also led to new connections and partners that have helped to move the project forward. The Calgary Tesla Award connected the group with Innovate Calgary who are assisting with intellectual property protection. Participating in the World’s Challenge Challenge provided a connection with a potential customer, a company in Africa that is making electric motorcycles.
Enactus 2019 Student Entrepreneur finalist
Hull has been selected as one of 12 finalists across Canada for the Enactus 2019 Student Entrepreneur. Enactus Canada is focused on shaping entrepreneurial leaders with programs established on university campuses across the country with training for student teams, academic advisers to guide and mentor, and community outreach projects.
“Enactus gives us the chance to test our business model against some brilliant and creative thinkers,” says Hull. “The experience provides us with an incredible opportunity to learn and grow quickly. In addition, connecting with other young entrepreneurs always proves invaluable. You never know who you will meet or who they know.”
“Roger will be an excellent representative for Haskayne at the Enactus nationals,” says Peschl. “In the past three months, his business model has really developed into something quite amazing.”
The Enactus Student Entrepreneur Champion will be selected at the 2019 Enactus Canada National Exposition May 7 to 9, 2019.