Scoot over, Bird and Lyme: Superpedestrian to offer ‘self-repairing’ electric scooters

December 5, 2018

Emergency rooms are seeing even more cases involving broken noses, wrists, and shoulders; facial lacerations and fractures; and blunt head trauma than they have in the past—especially on the West Coast, where electric-scooter use is trending.

Although no data on scooter injuries has been compiled to date, The Washington Post reports that the handy, scaled-down urban vehicles—which really are a juiced-up version of what used to be a child’s toy—seem to be exposing users to danger.

Indeed, the news outlet says that, as use of the scooters continues surge—and to spread nationwide—manufacturers and marketers of the vehicles have been criticized for deploying models that break apart in use, catch fire, and lull vulnerable riders into a false sense of safety. Many riders do not even use helmets while they are negotiating bumper-to-bumper city traffic.

But now, the Post reported on December 3, a transportation robotics company claims it may have the solution.

Superpedestrian—a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based micro-mobility company that began producing electric bicycles in 2013—told the D.C.-based news outlet this week that it plans to begin producing an “industrial grade e-scooter” capable of operating on a single charge for several days, self-diagnosing mechanical problems and removing itself from circulation using “vehicle intelligence” in 2019.

The average e-scooter life span is about three months, but Assaf Biderman, the company’s founder and CEO—as well as associate director of the MIT Senseable City Laboratory (where the concept for the company’s bike and its innovative Copenhagen Wheel was born)—says Superpedestrian’s e-scooters will be able to remain in circulation for as long as 18 months.

“Shared scooters must be super-robust, require minimal charging and be smart enough to sustain themselves on city streets for prolonged periods of time, all while costing a few hundreds of dollars to produce,” Biderman told the newspaper.

The company’s scooter tops out at around 17 mph but is slightly larger than models available through major companies such as Bird, Lime, Skip, and Lyft. The scooter can travel up to 60 miles on a single charge, the company informed the Post.

Biderman said the larger wheel size and rider base improves safety and sets the model apart from most e-scooters on the market.

What’s more, Superpedestrian’s scooter is capable of self-diagnosing mechanical problems using “vehicle intelligence”—a tool designed to monitor battery voltage and temperature, as well as the device’s motor.

When the scooter encounters a mechanical problem, Biderman said, its scooter performs automated maintenance. If that fails, he added, the scooter opens a support ticket and takes itself offline, making it impossible for customers to ride. Once that occurs, he said, a human mechanic would be alerted to fix the scooter on the ground.

“Compare this to how things currently work, where you rely on users to report that a vehicle has an issue, but if they fail to do so, people can keep riding and be at risk.”

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