RhinoCharge is committed to using real-world and user research as the primary driver of our product development. To continue our research into chargers in the real world, we decided to go to San Francisco, a major center for EVs and other forms of tech. Per our research, the city has quite a high density of chargers, so we wanted to see what that looked like. As most of our team was south on the peninsula at the time, we elected to take the local commuter railroad, CalTrain, as a way of minimizing the trip’s carbon footprint. Our team met at the California Avenue station and immediately ran into problems. While CalTrain has a 50% youth discount, only one of us was adept enough with the confusing procedures to redeem the discount for the trip. In addition, the only ticket machine was on the southbound platform, and, had the train not been delayed, some of our members would have arrived just in the knick of time. Finally on the way , we were able to relax with the train providing a smooth, comfortable, and environmentally friendly way to reach SF.
After just over an hour aboard, the train pulled into the San Francisco station at the intersection of 4th and King Street. Waiting for us by the departure maps was our mentor, Coach Alex. This was also a momentous trip since it was the first time the entire team was able to meet in person after months of Zoom sessions. Together, we took a short walk down King to the Yerba Buena Gardens, our location to meet the members who drove. A fierce debate was held about whether the “gardens” were still classified as such due to replacing some of their grass and plants with wood chips as a water conservation measure. Having assembled our entire team, we set off for Chinatown to find a parking spot and prepare for our first charging station.
Arriving, we got lucky and came just as someone was pulling out of their spot, allowing us to park just steps from the restaurant. Having parked, we set off for our first charger, at the Portsmouth Square garage. Looking on PlugShare, an EV charger review and info app, we could see that the charger was supposedly on the north side of the first floor. Looking there, however, we found no chargers, just regular parking spots. After spending several minutes looking through the garage, we realized that they were actually on the second floor. This mistake could be attributed to the fact that the garage entrance is on the second floor, so if someone was not paying attention, they could mistake it for the first floor. This highlighted the importance of signage since there was nothing except the incorrect PlugShare description to guide users to the station. While we were at the station, we caught the attention of an employee who seemed excited to share what they could about the process. From what was said, it seems as though the charger companies have a lot of control over the process, the garage employees weren’t even sure if or when more chargers would be added.
For lunch, we walked back down to Chinatown, and ordered a large selection from the renowned “House of Dim Sum.” We ordered so much food that the server said that they were not sure if we could finish it all. Some members also tried new dishes, such as Coach Yoonjung’s first experience with chicken feet. While trying new foods is not always enjoyable, it is always a fun experience. Although we did not finish everything, we made impressive progress, filling ourselves for a full day of adventuring around SF.
After our huge lunch, we decided to take a walk to the San Francisco City Hall to burn off some of the food we ate. The walk itself was around 40 minutes one way which gave our group a lot of time to talk about our project, catch up on what was happening in each other’s lives, and to sightsee the many neighborhoods between Chinatown and the city hall. Our path brought us through the Stockton Street Tunnel where we could barely talk over the roar of gas engines. We also got to see Union Square with loads of designer stores and a block entirely dedicated to Macy’s. Finally, we trekked down the home stretch to Market Street and the United Nations Plaza that was holding a farmer’s market.
By the time we got to the city hall we were already tired but also wanted to see the charging stations at the parking garage nearby. With the help of the PlugShare app, we were able to easily navigate to the charging station as the app clearly denoted that there are 4 stations near the north elevator on level 1. Unlike the charging stations in Portsmouth Square, this was significantly easier to find and more well developed. It had enough chargers for the designated EV parking spots.
With the success of learning more about a different charging station, we got started on our long trek back to the car. Luckily, this time we decided to take an alternate route so we still had new streets to visit. Additionally, we saw a Boba Guys boba shop on the way there so we decided to revisit it as a rest stop within the long walk. For some members they were trying Boba Guys for the first time, and we all had good feelings about our drinks across the board.
For the final destination of our trip, we drove to Crissy Field. At that location was a rare above-ground charging station that also had the huge bonus of having an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay. This was by far one of the prettiest charging station locations in the city. To our disappointment, both of the chargers on the station were not working. One of them had the external insulation frayed beyond use and the other charger was already labeled “Out of Service”. This revealed another factor people need to consider about charging stations: maintainability. This specific charging station is free and as a result, isn’t as closely maintained as a charger that has fees. It was still cool to see the concept of a free charger in such a perfect location.
With some time to kill, we decided to check out the Palace of Fine Arts as it was close to the Crissy Field charging station and a popular tourist attraction. At the Palace of Fine Arts, we took many photos and finally decided to sit down at the bottom of a tree as we had been walking the entire day. In order for some of the members to catch the train back home, we had to call an Uber to the train station. It took significant effort to get an uber for our team because of how many people we needed. Our first attempt’s driver was located in Sausalito, and we couldn’t try out Uber Green due to a limitation of no more than 3 people per car. When we got to the train station we had to say our final goodbyes until we could see some of the members in person again.
Coach Yoonjung’s reflection:
Overall, I think it was magnificent trip all in all(good food, good team bonding, lots and lots of exercise walking up and down the street in San Francisco while “harassing” our slow moving crew to reach next destination following our tight itinerary(“maximizer” and “efficiency queen” mode-lol). My favorite part though if I were to be forced to pick then it would be the perfectness of everything(the weather, aforementioned 3 elements and even perfect parking lot which is very rare in San Francisco). I tend to remember beautiful memories with the weather conditions like wind or cloud etc so this trip will be ingrained in my memory for sure with the perfect weather conditions, dim sum place and its chicken feet I tried first time in my life when the breeze blew so gently from the hill on that street make-do pandemic style seating. I look forward to season 2 team bonding and “research” trip already.
Coach Alex’s reflection:
I made a really big mistake in walking several miles the day before. It was really great walking around and not creating more emissions using ride-share, but as a Texan who primarily drives places it was a lot more walking than I’m accustomed to! It was also funny to be part of the “slow walker” group considering I walk at an alarmingly fast New Yorker pace and usually have to stop and wait for my parents. It was really amazing getting to meet everyone and experience an in-person business trip. There was a very strange feeling seeing people in person we’ve talked so much in person as a mix of familiarity and newness. I think we accomplished both learning about the shortcomings about existing EV infrastructure in one of the most saturated cities and also had fun and enjoyed delicious snacks along the way. It made it very clear even in cities like SF that have so many chargers, there is significant room for improvement or impact still. I’m really looking forward to Season 2 and the possibility of doing in-person “business trips” like this again!
I think this trip proved an invaluable asset to the Rhinocharge team, as it not only strengthened the bonds between team members but provided hands on knowledge about charging stations, things that simply cannot be replicated online. The trip allowed the team to interact together for the first time, and broke down many of the barriers that communicating only virtually can create. In addition, the trip provided an opportunity for fun, doing things like having dim sum and boba tea or taking the train. In all, I think the trip was an incredibly good experience that helped the team and provided a nice break from virtual interaction.
I was looking forward to this trip because in order to work more efficiently next season, we needed to get closer with each other. I feel like the two EV charging stations we visited gave me good insights about what kind of difficulties EV users can have trying to find public chargers. When we went to Portsmouth square and tried to find an EV charger, I thought that EV users would have a difficult time finding a charging station there. The description in the PlugShare app was wrong, so it took a long time to find the EV charger. This gave me some confidence that our project could provide better places to put EV chargers that are more exposed to the public and easier to find. In Crissy Field, both of the chargers were out of service. I could imagine how disappointing it could be for a customer park there, expecting to see working EV chargers, and realize that the chargers are not working. In Google Maps, it seemed like the chargers were working and available, so that was frustrating. Overall, I think this trip went smoothly as planned. We pretty much did everything we planned to without great difficulty. My favorite part of the trip was going to the dim sum place. I feel like that was the place where we did most of the talking. We had a lot of fun and got to know each other better. I am looking forward to having more fun next season!
The team went on an amazing journey to San Francisco, and was a trip where the team members opened up to each other rather than staring at faces on a screen. Along the way, we made fun of each other, became comfortable talking and sharing to the rest of the team. We had magnificent discoveries about EV charging stations and where they are located while at the same time bonded with each other. The trip for me was more about learning the characters of the people I have been working with. This allowed us to share ideas more fluently, for example, we argued how logistic the EV charging station locations really were. Some, if not most EV charging stations may be hard to find for an EV user, as they were mostly found underground in a parking lot, with limited images or information on Google map or other map services. Some EV charging infrastructures needed maintenance as we discovered in Crissy Field. More and more ideas were put on the table as team stayed longer in San Francisco
When I imagine what a successful team looks like, the most important factor is arguably having a team that feels comfortable with each other. Even though our team felt pretty well connected — especially considering our recent virtual s’mores adventure and “friendly” debates about fonts, there still was a barrier that hadn’t been broken: seeing everyone in person. This trip was the first time I had seen some of the members, which was a bit strange since I had only seen them in a tiny zoom window. Oddly enough, after the first minute of seeing people for the first time in person, it felt absolutely normal — almost as if I had always seen them in person. It was great being able to explore the city with the team and have many small interactions that wouldn’t have been possible in zoom. We could talk about topics that wouldn’t have naturally come up otherwise and experience the real world together. We explored the many EV chargers in San Francisco and complained about their bad placement (some had zero signs or symbols to guide the user). By the end of the trip, I felt as if the team became even more close and connected. This experience will be invaluable to us and also to me personally.