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Finland is charging up the drive toward e-mobility

Trombia Technologies has developed the world’s first full-power electric and autonomous street sweeper.Trombia Technologies

Finland has one of Europe’s highest market shares of registered electric vehicles, and a range of e-mobility innovations that continue to pick up speed.

Finland saw the share of electric vehicles of total vehicle registrations increase by almost 11 percentage points to 17.7 per cent between 2019 and 2020, securing it fifth place in the inaugural global e-mobility ranking by the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA).

Defined as vehicles with fully electric and plug-in hybrid drivetrains, electric vehicles made up a higher share of registrations only in the Netherlands (24.7%), Sweden (32.1%), Iceland (44.6%) and Norway (74.8%).

The Finnish Information Centre of Automobile Sector has revealed that the number of fully electric vehicles more than doubled to 9 673 and that of plug-in hybrid vehicles almost doubled to 45 650 during the course of 2020. The numbers have increased by almost 1 600 and 4 700 per cent, respectively, in the past five years.

The race toward electric road transport is part of a national effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, with road transport identified as the segment with the “greatest potential” for reductions by the Finnish Government. The government has encouraged consumers to choose an electric vehicle with a 2 000-euro subsidy since 2018 and with investments in developing the charging infrastructure.

Electric vehicles are increasingly appealing to consumers not only because of lower prices, improved performance and greater convenience, but also because of aesthetics, as manufacturers are striking the right balance between fitting in and standing out.

Seinäjoki-based Verge Motorcycles has received a Red Dot Design Award for Verge TS, a fully electric motorcycle powered by an industry-first rim-integrated motor. Image: Verge Motorcycles

Seinäjoki-based Verge Motorcycles was recently recognised for the design of its electric motorcycle, Verge TS, with a Red Dot Design Award. The world-first rim-integrated electric motor invented by the startup enabled it to take liberties with other aspects of the design to create a uniquely futuristic, yet not outright unrecognisable roadster that spares users of tiresome maintenance tasks such as chain lubrication.

“It’s an honour to share such a recognition with manufacturers like Ferrari, Polestar, Honda and CAKE,” a spokesperson for the startup rejoiced on Facebook.

“It’s true that in just three years we have turned a sketch into product, and to be recognised in this way is such an achievement. This will give the team even more fuel to continue our journey to become a globally recognised electric motorcycle manufacturer that stands out from the rest.”

Hidden inside the rim of the hubless rear wheel, the motor is capable of jolting the bike from zero to 100 in less than four seconds and peaking at 180 kilometres per hour.

The roadster is equipped with a battery pack that offers a range of 200–300 kilometres, depending on the environment and riding style, and an onboard charger that recharges the batteries in a little over four hours. The range can also be increased by about 100 kilometres with a 15-minute infusion of power from a DC charger, according to Verge.

Empowering change

It is the lack of such charging points, though, that has inhibited the adoption of electric vehicles especially in a country with as vast distances as Finland.

Kempower will supply power units and charging satellites for a nationwide charging network built by S Group. Image: s Group/Lari Lappalainen

Both Virta and Kempower have set out to tackle the problem, from slightly different angles. Virta, a Helsinki-headquartered charging platform provider, announced recently it has secured 30 million euros in a funding round launched to accelerate the global transition to sustainable mobility by empowering large corporations to supplement their offering with charging services.

The round drew investments from major technology investors in Europe and Asia, including Jolt Capital, Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi) and Vertex Growth.

Listed in the top 200 of the FT 1 000, the company offers corporations across industries a platform to launch, scale and operate commercial charging services as a primary business or value-added service. The platform is already used by almost 1 000 business-to-business clients in more than 30 countries and makes up one of the largest charging ecosystems in Europe.

“Virta has built a differentiated digital transaction platform and is well-placed to address the needs of businesses as they establish and grow their EV charging network and user base,” analysedTam Hock Chuan, managing director of Vertex Growth.

“Virta is Vertex Growth’s first investment in Europe – we are excited to back the company and to partner them to expand their footprint in Asia.”

Lahti-based Kempower, in turn, announced it has been selected as the charger supplier of S Group, a Finnish retail co-operative that is building a charging network utilising its over 1 800 locations across the country by 2024.

Finland’s Virta has created a platform that is an integral component of one of the largest charging networks in Europe. Image: Virta

“This is a very interesting and unique project for us and Finland,” said Tomi Ristimäki, CEO of Kempower. “It’s not every day that a charging network of this magnitude is built.”

The first charging stations will be set up at the busiest locations, such as hypermarkets, hotels and service stations, in the next two years, according to Tiina Viksten, development director of chain management at ABC, a service station chain owned by S Group.

“From there, we will move towards smaller locations,” she added. “The entire network will operate under the same ABC Charging brand.”

ABC Charging will seek to become the leading provider of charging services in terms of reliability and customer experience, a feat that requires the best equipment available, competitive prices, and easy and fast transactions, listed Viksten.

As surely as the future of mobility is increasingly electric, it is increasingly autonomous. One of the companies paving the way for self-driving vehicles is Sensible 4, the Espoo-based startup behind the all-weather autonomous shuttle bus GACHA.

Sensible 4’s GACHA bus was also the focus of a collaborations with MUJI. Image: Sensible 4

Originating in Aalto University, Sensible 4’s autonomous innovation gathered momentum when it participated in a pair of EU-funded projects, the second of which –  FABULOS – recently concluded. FABULOS sought solutions that prepare cities for the future of mobility. It was here that the company developed its self-driving software into a viable last-mile transport solution, by trialling its technology first in a laboratory setting, where its drivetrain was exposed to very low temperatures, and finally in two pilots on public roads: in Helsinki, Finland, and Gjesdal, Norway.

“[The] FABULOS project was a successful accelerator for us and the emerging European autonomous driving industry,” viewedHarri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4.

The field-testing stage of the project saw different autonomous vehicles carry altogether over 2 800 passengers and log around 14 000 kilometres in open road conditions in Finland, Estonia, Greece, Norway and the Netherlands. Some of the testing was carried out in difficult weather conditions, on routes with steep hills and busy traffic to demonstrate the real-life viability of the concepts.

“FABULOS has shown that huge technological improvements can be achieved in relatively short time,” said project coordinator Renske Martijnse-Hartikka. “But in order to reach this, we had to push the national regulatory bodies to enable the testing and deployment of our robot bus solutions. We also learned that aligning technological developments and appropriate regulations can be challenging, but we are clearly getting there – at least in Europe.”

Inhabitants of the Finnish capital may have recently spotted also another driverless vehicle, a street sweeper called Trombia Free.

Trombia Free sweeps while the smart city sleeps. Image: Trombia Technologies

Developed by Kuopio-based Trombia Technologies, the world’s first full-power electric and autonomous street sweeper was assigned to the night shift, under human supervision, as part of a week-long trial organised in the district of Jätkäsaari with Forum Virium Helsinki and Helsinki City Construction Services (Stara) in April.

The sweeper requires only 15 per cent of the energy of conventional brushing vacuum cleaning machines and a fraction of the water of conventional cleaning methods. What makes it specifically suitable for night-time use in a busy residential area, however, is its low noise level, highlighted Antti Nikkanen, CEO of Trombia.

“The autonomous and electric sweeper is so quiet that it makes it possible to sweep the streets at night,” he stated.

“Combating climate change requires new solutions from all of us at the global level. Cities are playing a key role in finding solutions to challenges such as those related to sustainable housing, and our mission is to facilitate the electrification of street sweeping in full and achieve significant emission reductions all at once.”

Robot couriers trialled in Helsinki

Forum Virium Helsinki, the innovation company of the Finnish capital, has piloted a robot courier to deliver meals to wards of Kustaankartano Senior Centre. Named Polle, a colloquial name for a workhorse, the robot autonomously navigated the service tunnels, lifts and ramps of the centre while making a clopping-like sound to promote detection.

Depending on the results of the pilot, the robots could be deployed also to other service centres and assigned to other duties, such as mail, laundry and cardboard waste transport.

In Kalasatama, a north-eastern district of Helsinki, a similar robot was tasked with delivering meals from a supermarket to locals in a pilot carried out last autumn.

The meals were ordered through the service app of a nearby high-rise building, while the offering was co-defined by the residents. The robot was programmed to not only whistle to make people aware of it, but also engage in a bit of chitchat: “I can’t press the button, but luckily we speak the same language,” it would state in the lift.

An employee loaded boxes of sushi onto a courier robot ready to deliver them to the residents of a nearby high-rise building in Helsinki. Image: Vesa Laitinen / Forum Virium Helsinki
By: Aleksi Teivainen