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GE's WattStation Electric Vehicle Charger Hits Streets in 2011

If the electric car is to succeed, it needs charging stations that are both easy-to-use and well designed—a clunky infrastructure will quickly turn off potential drivers. That's why GE brought in fuseproject's Yves Behar to design its upcoming WattStation, a sleek EV charger for city streets that can juice vehicles in just four to eight hours. Today's standard "level 1" chargers take 12 to 18 hours to fully charge a car.

Behar factored in a number of considerations when designing the WattStation: visibility from the street, ability to withstand various weather conditions, and general attractiveness.

The WattStation's status can quickly be seen by passing cars. A green LED ring around the top of the charger indicates that it is available, a red ring signals that the charger is out of service, and a blue ring indicates that it is in use. The plastic and aluminum charger is easy to clean, too—the sloped top allows rain and snow to quickly slide off.

"EV chargers [in the past] tended to be more influenced by their ancestors, the gas pump. The WattStation is much more integrated into the urban landscape, the built environment. It's a smoother, more organic object—more influenced by nature in a way," Behar says.

It makes sense, then, that Behar made the WattStation both modular and customizable. "One of the ideas I'm excited about is the ability for different cities to customize the finish of the [WattStation's] materials depending on their identity, on the street, and on their look," says Behar. "There are many different versions of streetlights and benches. I think in the future, electric vehicle chargers will be so commonly available that people will be able to fashion them after the environment they want to live in."

WattStations might one day have full screen displays—so they can act as, say, combination parking meters, information centers, and car chargers.

The first WattStations to be released in 2011 will be intended solely for city streets, but Behar and GE are working on different models for homes, garages, and elsewhere. Future WattStation will be tweaked for different environments, but the goal remains the same: to reduce—or even eliminate—our reliance on traditional gas stations.

GE will be in direct competition with Shai Agassi's Better Place, which produces a similar charging station that has already won multiple design awards.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.