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Next Gen Powersports: Taiga Motors Creates the First Electric Snowmobile and Personal Watercraft Using Digi Solutions

Taiga Motors
"The Digi Ecosystem is a very user-friendly solution for our R&D team because everything is already figured out and pre-certified. We’re using our own board, and the Digi components are really plug-and-play."

Gabriel Bernatchez, Chief Technical Officer, Taiga Motors

Whether it’s venturing down a snow-covered slope or blazing across open water, Taiga Motors is aiming to redefine power sports equipment with its new lines of electric-powered snowmobiles and personal watercraft. With the Digi ConnectCore® 6 single-board computer (SBC) and the Digi XBee® 3 Cellular LTE Cat 1 modem, Taiga’s new vehicles will offer game-changing features, reliability, and connectivity.

Rethinking the Powersports Experience

While millions of enthusiasts love nothing more than hitting the open trail during the winter months, snowmobiling, one of North America’s most popular regional sports, is now grappling with aging equipment designs, changing user tastes and heightened concerns about environmental impacts.

“Let’s face it,” said Gabriel Bernatchez, chief technical officer of Taiga Motors, “traditional gas-powered sleds are very noisy and create higher levels of carbon emissions than automobiles because they are not tightly regulated. “They also present a very high maintenance burden. Just as manufacturers like Tesla are gaining traction in the automotive space, we think there’s an emerging market for electric-powered snowmobiles and personal watercraft.”

After winning a startup competition and securing funding, Taiga Motors designed a head-turning prototype for the first electric snowmobile. An electric personal watercraft design soon followed. “They use the same motors, batteries, and electronic designs,” Bernatchez said. “We’re producing the Orca Electric Watercraft first because it’s a little easier to manufacture.”

The Brains Behind Taiga Vehicles

According to Bernatchez, the designs of these electric power sports vehicles afforded Taiga engineers significant opportunities to change the driver experience. “We’re using the Digi SBC for a visual dashboard, GPS navigation, and wireless connectivity through Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and LTE cellular – features that have never been previously available on these vehicles,” he said. “That’s got a lot of appeal for both consumer and commercial customers alike.” In bringing these designs from the drawing board to working prototype, Taiga selected Digi ConnectCore® 6 single-board computer and Digi XBee® components to provide the logic and connectivity for its vehicles.

Digi ConnectCore 6 provides an intelligent foundation for Taiga’s vehicles. This compact, secure single-board computer (SBC) helps to reduce time-to-market with features and support that jump-start the development process. The Digi ConnectCore 6 SBC integrates pre-certified Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi, and provides Digi XBee RF module and cellular connectivity options, Gigabit Ethernet support, multi display/camera and audio support for complex, high-performance designs.

The integration of pre-certified Digi XBee 3 modules quickly enabled wireless connectivity for Taiga Motors, which aims to deliver its first machines by the end of 2020. The Digi XBee 3 module enables developers to switch between multiple frequencies and wireless protocols as needed, and is a great fit for moderate bandwidth (typically < 25 MB/month) and low-cost IoT applications.

Outdoor Durability with Wireless Updating

“The Digi Ecosystem is a very user-friendly solution for our R&D team because everything is already figured out and pre-certified,” Bernatchez said. “We’re using our own printed circuit board, and the Digi components are really plug-and-play. You just build an app on top of this platform. We now have a rugged solution that’s rated to -40 Celsius and SAE vibration rating so it can withstand the environments where we operate. We’ve also built waterproof enclosures.”

Taiga engineers used Yocto Linux and Qt Creator, as well as some C++ and JavaScript, to create the interface. And with the Digi XBee Internet connection, Taiga can wirelessly deliver live updates to its firmware at any time.

Staying Connected on the Trail and in the Water

Digi connectivity changes the nature of vehicle operation, tracking, and maintenance. “These are the first power sports vehicles with a dashboard screen to show all the operating and navigation information,” Bernatchez said. “And by replacing the loud, exhaust-spewing internal combustion engine with a quieter electric motor, we created a much lighter vehicle that moves faster and reacts faster and more precisely to the throttle.

“We’re initially targeting commercial customers such as resort operators or rental agencies – organizations that have large fleets to manage. Rental companies like our ability to program in power and speed limits and prevent reckless operation, especially by younger drivers – and that improves their insurability. They can see battery status and view upcoming preventive maintenance recommendations. And with the GPS integration, they can pinpoint the exact location of every vehicle in their fleet at any moment in time. And since they all operate on batteries, there’s no gasoline to acquire and manage and stabilize. As for maintenance, these vehicles only need suspension greasing and standard coolant – that’s it.”

Not surprisingly, according to Bernatchez, the market reaction has been very strong. “We’re not doing any outbound marketing – buyers are coming to us, which tells us the market is ready for this. People see our demonstrations, and we’re turning heads and changing minds.”