All posts in “bird”

‘Smart’ e-scooter thinks it can fix flaws with scooter-sharing

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An e-scooter is an e-scooter is an e-scooter. Right?

It may seem that way, but companies are developing new designs for the two-wheeled machines. As the scooter-share industry continues to grow, it’s becoming clear that the motorized devices are increasingly important. 

Superpedestrian, a transportation robotics company, works behind the scenes on scooter development. This week it introduced its vehicle intelligence software system that the Cambridge, Massachusetts company wants to pair with a new rugged, “industrial-grade” e-scooter. It thinks it can take on fundamental flaws with scooters: overuse, quickly drained batteries, easily hackable, and more.

The new software system comes as several operators admit to issues with the scooters themselves. Lime recently pulled certain scooters off the road after reports of battery fires and cracked baseboards. The bright green scooter company earlier unveiled its next generation machine that includes some smarter features, like a screen that displays no-go zones and parking rules.

Another scooter company, Bird, has been rolling out a steady stream of updated equipment, switching manufacturers and adding proprietary features and designs. Even Skip, one of two San Francisco scooter operators, introduced a new scooter design within weeks of launching with a permit in the city.

Bird then opened its platform to regular users to operate their own scooter-sharing fleets. Austin, Texas-based company Goat is trying a similar thing with its purple scooters.

Riding smartly,

Riding smartly,

Image: Superpedestrian

Superpedestrian wants to put some “brains” into the scooter fleets out there. The same software system is already used for e-bike-sharing with Superpedestrian’s Copenhagen Wheel. Now the MIT lab spinoff company based in Cambridge, Mass., wants scooter companies to use their vehicles and operations platform to take care of these over-used and abused fleets.

CEO Assaf Biderman highlighted the scooters’ economic benefit for fleets in a recent conversation. “It’s built to survive in the streets a lot longer,” he said. He said it also has a longer life expectancy from nine to 18 months.

The sturdier design and wider wheel is designed to handle potholes and curbs. Then there’s the battery. The Superpedestrian scooter is supposed to last three to seven days. Biderman sees this as the biggest benefit for companies spending money collecting or paying independent contractors to charge scooters every night. 

The operations software that tracks what’s up with all the scooters in real time in one handy platform is where Biderman sees the real savings coming in. Hardware problems like battery, sensor, or wiring problems, are flagged and risky vehicles are spotted. Remote software restarts can fix other issues. Complying with city regulations, like no-riding zones or speed limits can also be controlled through the software. 

Instead of relying on users and chargers to flag device issues this system is all cloud-based. The fewer humans involved in fleet management, the cheaper it is. “[The scooters] can live longer because you can maintain them,” he said.

I took a quick ride in downtown San Francisco on the “smart” scooter and most noticeably the big, thick wheels made going over a curb or rutted SF street not as harrowing of an experience. 

Biderman and his scooter.

Biderman and his scooter.

Image: sasha lekach / mashable

I haven’t started my own scooter operation yet, but for when I want to build my e-scooter empire a platform like Superpedestrian’s could be pre-fabricated way to maintain, organize, and attempt to actually make money off the scooter craze. 

Also released on Tuesday was the Acton M Scooter Pro, an e-scooter with a 30-mile range on a single charge. Most of the scooters on the street have about 15 miles on a charge. It’ll be available in the start of the new year. The Bay Area-based company echoes a lot of what Superpedestrian says about scooters used for fleets. 

Is it fleet ready?

Is it fleet ready?

Image: acton

In a release about the new motorized scooter, co-founder Peter Treadway said, “we noticed a gap in the market for a dependable, long-lasting, sustainable scooter.” He added, “It’s built like a vehicle, not a toy, to withstand the everyday wear and tear of commercial use.”

Playtime is over for e-scooters.

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Report: Uber looks into buying e-scooter company Bird or Lime

Future Ubers?
Future Ubers?

Image: ROBYN BECK / getty

Four wheels good, two wheels better

According to a report in The Information, the ride-hailing company Uber is in secret talks to acquire an electric scooter company. And, if the story’s sources are accurate, Uber isn’t being too picky — the company is reportedly speaking with both Bird and Lime about a possible deal. 

The move would make sense for Uber, as CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has spoken about his company’s desire to become the “Amazon of transportation” by offering customers an all encompassing range of mobility options.

Lime, for its part, is keeping mum. “We do not comment on market rumors,” wrote a company spokesperson over email when reached for comment. 

Uber also declined to comment, and we did not hear back from Bird as of press time. 

Importantly, however, things do seem to be moving forward at a faster-than-scooter clip. The Information notes that a deal of some sort could be reached within the next month, although it cautions that said deal could also fizzle out into nothing. 

Uber has been exploring some form of scooter business for a while now, with Khosrowshahi touting the importance of both scooters and bikes to the company as recently as August. It’s not immediately clear, however, what would motivate either Bird of Lime to sell to Uber at this moment in time. Other than the money, of course, and whatever advantages come from aligning oneself with a global behemoth like Uber. 

Bird recently announced its so-called Bird Platform, which would allow individuals to buy Bird scooters at cost and run their own mini Bird empire — paying Bird a 20 percent cut in the process. Lime, for its part, recently expanded to Australia

Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, has also made efforts to get into the non-car transportation game. The company applied for a permit to operate an e-scooter rental business in San Francisco, and acquired bike-sharing company Motivate this past summer

Uber, for its part, acquired the bike-share business Jump in April. This latest report signals that the company is all in on its two-wheeled future.

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Now any rich idiot can run their own Bird scooter empire

This can all be yours — for a hefty price.
This can all be yours — for a hefty price.

Image: ROBYN BECK / getty

So you fancy yourself an entrepreneur. A doer. Someone who seizes opportunities and grabs life by the handlebars. Well hot damn, has Bird got a deal for you. 

You see, for the low low cost of buying your own e-scooters and paying Bird a 20 percent commission on all rides in perpetuity, you can now run your own fleet of Bird scooters. The program, announced Nov. 27, is called Bird Platform, and gives would-be two-wheeled tycoons the opportunity to do Bird CEO Travis VanderZanden’s job for him. 

“Bird Platform enables independent operators to manage their own fleet of shared e-scooter vehicles,” explains the Bird Platform page. Simply “[upload] your logo, select a sleeve color, cover the cost of city permits, and we’ll do the rest.”

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that. Specifically, you have to outright purchase all the scooters for your fleet directly from Bird, and then pay the company a cut of every ride taken on your scooters. 

So easy!

Image: screenshot / bird

“Bird will sell its top-rated Bird Zero model scooters at cost to all independent operators participating on the platform,” explains the company.

So just how much does each scooter cost? We reached out to Bird to find out, but didn’t get an answer to that specific question by press time. We do, however, know about that 20 percent cut Bird takes thanks to TechCrunch

But you better believe that people are interested in becoming Bird Kings. According to a Bird press release, “[more] than 300 individuals have already expressed interest in Bird Platform.” So, at least a few people are theoretically looking to launch their own scooter empires. 

They might want to think twice, however. After all, rental e-scooters rental from companies like Bird and Lime are frequently vandalized, and if you own the scooters we can’t imagine that Bird will fix your busted rides for free. 

You will, though, “enjoy Bird’s economies of scale.” So at least there’s that. 

“In exchange for all of these benefits,” we’re told, “Bird will charge a service fee on every scooter ride.”

Notably, Bird wasn’t the first scooter company to come up with the idea of having other people do its work for it. Austin-based e-scooter platform Goat announced a similar business model over the summer. 

“The way we look at it is,” explained Goat CEO Michael Schramm in a press release, “why would someone want to be a charger and make $5 a scooter, when they can manage their own fleet and keep all the earnings doing the same task they’re already doing?”

According to the Goat website, the scooters’ estimated delivery is set for November 2018. Which, well, let the second-tier scooter wars begin. VanderZanden will enjoy watching from afar, chilling out and collecting that sweet 20 percent. 

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For a small fee, entrepreneurs can now manage their own fleet of Bird e-scooters

Bird announced today that it will sell its electric scooters to entrepreneurs and small business owners, who can then rent them out as part of a new service called Bird Platform.

The company will provide the independent operators with scooters, which they are given free rein to brand as they please, as well as access to the company’s marketplace of chargers and mechanics, in exchange for 20 percent of the cost of each ride. Bird says fleet managers, which may be independent entrepreneurs or local mom and pop bike rental shops, for example, can also collect and charge the scooters themselves.

There’s no minimum or maximum number of scooters independent operators can purchase, though they have to keep in mind local regulations that, in certain cities, limit the number of scooters permitted on the streets. Bird says the company will initially begin rolling out Bird Platform in December, targeting markets where scooters are already actively used and where regulations are a bit more relaxed. Bird Platform will be irrelevant in San Francisco, for example, where the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has put a cap on the number of e-scooters available and has refused to grant Bird a permit to operate at all.

The company hopes Bird Platform will be a helpful tool as it continues to work its way into new markets around the world.

Bird chief executive officer Travis VanderZanden said they’ve been quietly working on this product for a while and have 300 interested parties waiting to get started with the service.

“In the last year of operating, we kept getting these inbound requests from entrepreneurs that really wanted to take Bird to their cities,” VanderZanden told TechCrunch. “I think there’s been a lot of people passionate about the electric scooter movement and taking cars off the road. There are a lot of entrepreneurs who want to bring Bird to their city.”

Goat, a scooter startup located in Austin, similarly began renting its scooters to micro mobility enthusiasts in the Texas capital. Goat CEO Michael Schramm explained the launch in a company announcement at the time, according to Mashable: “The way we look at it is, why would someone want to be a charger and make $5 a scooter, when they can manage their own fleet and keep all the earnings doing the same task they’re already doing?”

Bird, valued at $2 billion, has raised $415 million in venture capital funding from Greycroft, Sequoia, Accel and others. Since launching about a year ago, it’s clocked in more than 10 million rides and expanded to some 100 cities.

E-scooter companies really don’t want you to do this

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Just because you’re riding around on two wheels with a motor boosting you to 12 mph doesn’t mean you can stop paying attention. 

Just like distracted driving, distracted scooting is becoming a concern on the road. That’s why scooter-share company Bird says it joined AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign. Since 2010, the phone company has encouraged putting down the phone for texts, calls, and checking your email (and more), while driving. In 2018, the campaign includes all those behaviors — but on rentable e-scooters.

For confident scooter riders, the inclination to multitask while riding can be strong, as is the pull of the smartphone. The motorized devices may feel like a toy, but they’re considered a road vehicle, riding alongside cars, buses, bicycles, pedestrians, and other scooters. At least you better be off the sidewalk and in the bike lane, or riding along the edge of the road. 

PCI insurance group noted a recent study by Zendrive that found at least 69 million drivers in the U.S. use a phone while driving every day. What riders are willing to do behind the handlebars hasn’t been studied enough yet, but we can guess it’s just as pervasive a problem.

To promote safe scooting, Bird created a short video showing how that scooter selfie can result in a crash — or worse. The silent 7-second safety message is above.

Bird isn’t the only scooter company concerned about safe riding, or at least the liability of unsafe riding.

Last week their competitor Lime released its “Respect the Ride” safety campaign. The program includes a rider pledge, educational videos about safe scooter use and proper parking, and a $3 million commitment from the company toward public safety and education plans.

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A Lime spokesperson said this week that 75,000 people had signed the pledge. That might’ve been prompted by the lure of free helmets for the first 25,000 who pledged to ride safely. Lime plans to distribute 250,000 free helmets in cities across the globe in the next six months. The pledge helmets were mailed to signees.

In the fight against distracted scooting, Lime has plans to include a personalized screen with your user profile and info about your previous trips and saved locations on its next generation scooter. Maybe that’ll stave off the urge to connect to a smartphone. 

Lime last week also announced alongside e-scooter company Spin (which was just bought by Ford) an agreement with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to study how the scooters are used. So more data will be shared with cities, starting with LA, and hopefully improve the streets for scooter users.

Distracted scooting comes up alongside drunken or impaired scooting, another e-scooter no-no. While distracted scooter riders can be harder for police and public safety officials to track down, intoxicated scooting can lead to real arrests and DUI records, like the 28-year-old who crashed into a pedestrian while three times over the legal limit on a Bird scooter in Los Angeles back in September.

Like this wine supplier points out, it’s important to learn what’s legal while on an e-scooter and not to drink and drive. The legal limit is the same as when driving a car. While you’re at it, put down the phone and just scoot.

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