WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Electric scooters litter cities, but now that they can drive themselves that’s no longer an issue.
We all know about self-driving cars. But what about self-driving motor bikes and bicycles? Well, now, about a year on from when a robot tried to take Valentio Rossi to town on the moto track, and Chinese researchers showed off their revolutionary neuromorphic computer chip by making a fully autonomous bicycle cycle itself home shared electric scooter provider Go X has announced it’s combining its scooters with self-driving tech from the company Tortoise to solve the first and last step problem of shared E-Scooters – finding and returning the scooters – a problem that I highlighted when I gave my keynote at Websummit last November when I took photos of Lime scooters littering Lisbon’s streets.
With companies like Bird and Lime, shared electric scooters are distributed around a city and riders must hunt them down with an app, and when riders have completed their journey, the scooters are left anywhere and the cycle continues until the scooter’s battery is nearly empty and it is picked up by a worker for charging.
Now Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners (CLPC) are rolling out their solution to make this process more efficient: Go X electric scooters that automatically drive to your location, then return on their own to a charging and disinfecting station after your journey ends. The scooter uses its main front wheel for driving power while under self-driving mode, but at the moment, unlike the Chinese bike, relies on a pair of training wheel-style outriggers to balance. The outrigger wheels are then folded forward when a rider takes control of the scooter.
Watch a pack of the scooters above. The technology is impressive, though I can’t help but feel a certain horror-flick vibe of being chased down by a pack of robo-scooters.
Needless to say the idea is that riders would summon a scooter in the same way they’d summon an Uber, from the app. And while the scooters are referenced as ‘self-driving’, they appear to be something of a hybrid between true self-driving and more traditional teleoperation, with Tortoise employees remotely helping to control their rider-free journeys.
To make this 6 month trial possible, the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree Corners, Georgia passed an ordinance mandating that all shared mobility devices in the city be capable of automated repositioning. The goal is to fight the problem of discarded scooters strewn about the city, as well as to increase accessibility.
As Brian Johnson, city manager of Peachtree Corners explained in a statement: “An important goal for us was to ensure that residents can enjoy the convenience of using e-scooters, while creating a world first in efficient, organised and advanced micro-mobility – right here in Peachtree Corners. As a reflection of our commitment to making cities smarter, we didn’t hesitate to partner with Tortoise to launch the first-ever fleet of self-driving e-scooters to be available for public use. Curiosity Lab empowers innovators like Tortoise and Go X to collaborate and discover other partners to test, prove and deploy novel technologies in a real-world environment.”
As US riders return to shared electric scooters while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the country, sanitisation is on the minds of many, so to calm riders the scooters will be disinfected after each use once they return to their base station.
“I am excited that we get to introduce the safest transportation solution for the post-COVID-19 world. While we made getting a scooter as magical and easy as ordering an Uber or Lyft car, we also went above and beyond to make sure that our vehicles provide the most virus-free ride out there,” added Alexander Debelov, CEO of Go X.