Charged ride


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Company: Works Electric
Product: Electric Transportation
CEO: Brad Baker
Headquarters: Portland
Launched: July 2013

Brad Baker, CEO and co-founder of Works Electric, is a good husband. His wife, an OHSU employee, sought a more efficient way to commute up Marquam “Pill” Hill, so she asked Baker to build a transportation solution. It needed “to fit in a house and be safe, but also be powerful enough and sturdy enough to do the duty every day,” says 32-year-old Baker, a former engineer at General Motors. Thus was born the Rover, a portable electric scooter that is “pretty sweet looking,” Baker says, “something I wouldn’t be self-conscious riding.”

Funded out of pocket, Works Electric now manufactures electric scooters and customizable motorcycles at its Portland workshop. “I work closely with the customers,” Baker says. “They tell me how powerful they want the [motorcycle] to be, how fast they want it to go and what they want it to look like, and we do it.”

The company launched at a propitious time. “There has been extreme growth in the adoption of e-bikes recently,” says Baker, who so far has sold more than 30 scooters. But the product isn’t cheap; the Rover costs $4,950, and the Rover BR, with a few more bells and whistles, has a base price of $5,750. “We really have to put a lot of work into changing people’s habits and getting them to commit to something like this,” Baker says.

What’s next? Works Electric is targeting commercial activity: tourist resorts, rental businesses and private security agencies. The company also plans to release two new models this summer: a light, off-road version and one for “repeated heavy use,” Baker says.

Pragmatic dreamer
“I can sit in my shop, my cave, and work on ideas, come up with new stuff and have fun with it, and that’s fine and dandy. I’ve always enjoyed it. But starting [Works Electric] takes that stuff that’s in my mind and puts it out into the world. I really like affecting the arc of people’s lives and positively impacting them.”

The specs
The current models weigh less than 100 pounds and are charged using a standard wall plug. The Rover has a range of 18 miles on a single charge and reaches a top speed of 28 mph; the Rover BR can travel 25 miles and can go as fast as 35 miles per hour.

Taking Root

One of the big topics in agriculture these days is precision agriculture: the use of GPS services, sensors and other “smart” technologies to conserve water and boost crop yields. Two Oregon startups are hot on the trail.

SupraSensor Technologies
Launched: 2013, Eugene
Co-founder and president: Calden Carroll

Agricultural pollution from nitrate fertilizers is a major contributor to ground and surface water contamination. Led by a University of Oregon research team, SupraSensor Technologies is developing a wireless sensor to allow for real-time monitoring of fertilizer application, reducing overuse.

A surfeit of chemicals: “In agriculture, the big problem is this tendency to want to always make sure you’re getting the best yield possible at the expense of whatever else you might need to put down or do, just to make sure that you actually make a living doing it,” says Carroll. “This leads to the problem of nitrate nonpoint source pollution.”

Reducing runoff: “We want to make a tool that can be widely used by people at the point of application in their fields to make sure they’re putting just enough down. It’s hard to make an argument about whether by using our tool correctly you’ll end up increasing your fertility. But the big idea is to try and cut off at least a portion of that 30% to 40% of overapplication.”

Rogue Rovers
Launched: 2013, Ashland
CEO: Melissa Brandao

Although precision agriculture is used for row crops such as wheat and corn, applications in specialty agriculture — apples, pears, grapes —  have been more challenging. These crops “are more complex [and] require more attention because they’re in hillier terrain, and the crops stay in the ground, so you have more obstacles,” says Brandao.

Rogue Rovers is taking on the challenge by building a smart, semi-autonomous all-terrain electric vehicle (ATV) for specialty farming. The goal is to replace the gas-powered ATVs and small tractors now used in many orchards and vineyards. “Our premise isn’t to replace the humans who are working in the environment with robots,” says Brandao. “It’s to take a vehicle that’s already there and improve it in a way that increases the efficiency of the humans who are working there.”

In April, Rogue Rovers received $24,000 from Oregon BEST to work on a prototype with the Oregon Institute of Technology. The cutting-edge vehicle can be programmed to navigate with or without a driver, build a virtual orchard database and communicate wirelessly. Brandao expects to begin producing and selling the ATV later this year, “with a real manufacturing process in place in 2015.”