Better Place, the ambitious Silicon Valley startup firm that's spent the last year and a half developing innovative solutions to further the cause of electric vehicles, has just revealed the world's first automated battery swapping system for EVs at an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. This unique hardware, which costs $500,000, can complete the changeover process in several minutes, roughly the same time required to fill the gas tank of a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. The demonstration was carried out on a Japanese-market Nissan Dualis, a compact crossover that had been fitted with a custom 400-volt battery pack composed of standard production Lithium-ion cells manufactured by A123Systems. Functionally, the Better Place hardware consists of an automated track system that runs beneath the vehicle and a pair of robotic carrier devices. When the vehicle is driven into position, the first of these automated shuttlers disconnects and lowers the discharged battery pack while the second moves a fully-charged replacement into place, raises it, and ensures that a proper electrical coupling is made -- a connection that is secure enough to withstand up to a claimed 25g impact. According to Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, production versions of the prototype design shown in Yokohama will be capable of handling various sizes and types of battery packs.
Agassi, who's on a mission to promote and develop multiple levels of EV-focused infrastructure, has been best known for involving Better Place in an ever expanding series of high-profile alliances with various cities, countries and states around the world. So far, these have been limited to planning and installing EV charging stations, but with the introduction of this new high-speed battery swapping system, the firm has raised its game to another plateau. Currently, Better Place has 17 functioning EV charging stations in Tel Aviv, Israel, with plans to bring 150,000 online throughout the country by 2011 as well as add 100 of the more ambitious change-out facilities. In addition to those programs, it's currently involved with various similar pilot operations in Denmark and Australia, along with the states of California and Hawaii. On a manufacturer level, Better Place also is working on an EV project with Renault.