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.
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.
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.
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.