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Scourge of the streets or disruptor of urban mobility? Scooters and e-scooters have exploded in popularity in recent years as people find more sustainable and faster ways to travel through cities. But these two-wheeled machines have courted a lot of controversy along the way.
Earlier this year, a 31-year-old woman was knocked down and killed by a scooter ridden on a sidewalk in Paris. Since then, the Parisian authorities have clamped down even further on scooters. Estimates suggest Paris has more than 15,000 available for rent, and the city introduced rules in 2019 banning them from public sidewalks. Now private scooter rental companies must limit their speeds and remove parking spaces from walkways.
There are also safety concerns for the riders themselves. According to the Washington Post, the medical journal JAMA Network Open noted that over one year, two emergency rooms in Los Angeles dealt with more injuries from e-scooters than from bicycles or walking. In the United States, e-scooters made almost 40 million trips in 2018. By 2025, there are expected to be 116 million users of e-scooters globally.
However, despite their obvious drawbacks, scooters have several benefits that make them attractive to users, too. A survey by Lime, a leading manufacturer and provider of e-scooter services, found that people got to their destination on average 22% faster if they use one. Add in their convenience and low cost of use and you can see why scooters are as popular as they are. In fact, for many people, they beat most other forms of transportation for the “last mile” of the commute: a study in Portland, Oregon, found that 70% of people who had ridden an e-scooter had done so for transportation rather than recreation purposes.
So, e-scooters have the potential to be an urban mobility game changer. Could location technology be the answer to ensuring they are used more safely?
Urban mobility pioneer Voi claims to be the most responsible e-scooter company in Europe and is working on making them a more socially acceptable form of transportation. Among the Swedish company's many safety initiatives are slow-speed zones, where the speed of its e-scooters is automatically restricted if it enters a busy area such as a main street.
Using cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence, Voi has turned e-scooters into smart scooters that know if they are riding on a sidewalk, a bicycle lane or a road, and can detect pedestrians and other forms of transportation.
Recently, Voi entered its smart scooters into a trial in Northampton, UK, which has recently been extended until March 2022. Since the trial began in 2020, Voi claims that there have been more than 835,000 rides, covering 1.2 million miles. It claims this has led to a reduction in 190 tons of carbon dioxide by replacing 410,000 car journeys. The company has also started a similar trial in other European cities including Brussels, Belgium.
There's another added bonus of pairing location technology and micromobility. Using highly accurate GNSS positioning, computer vision technology can detect and report potholes, dangerous roads and other obstacles that can help city planners further enhance the streets for scooter use.
“This state-of-the-art technology will support the current trial in Northampton by allowing us to better understand rider and pedestrian behavior and therefore, integrate e-scooters into our local transport system in a more effective and beneficial way,” said Jason Smithers, Northamptonshire County Councilor.
But rider behavior is still a fundamental factor in the safety of e-scooters. Just like Voi's speed zones, Bird, a California-based micromobility company, is introducing geofencing to make its scooters safer. Location technology tracks when a rider moves into one of its “Community Safety Zones”, highly pedestrianized areas such as schools, and restricts the scooter's speed to 13kph (8mph). Riders can check where these zones are on Bird's in-app map, allowing them to plan their route around these zones.
Another innovation from Bird is its “Safe Start” technology, which prevents drunk driving by requiring users to verify they are not under the influence of alcohol.
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