- E-scooter companies like Bird and Lime are struggling with broken and vandalized scooters.
- A startup called Superpedestrian thinks it can fix this problem with onboard diagnostic computers and a more rugged design.
- The company, which has yet to launch commercially, also wants to be a platform for other operators to rent scooters.
E-scooters for rent are a fairly simple business proposition: a company buys the vehicles from manufacturers such as Segway-Ninebot or even Razor and charges users for every ride.
Then, under the cover of darkness, distributed independent contractors — known as juicers, in the case of Lime — fan out to collect bounties for scooters low on battery (or… juice, if you will) and make a small commission for charging them.
These two simple transactions are at the heart of companies like Bird, Lime, Uber, Lyft, and others who have racked up massive valuations in the past year renting electric scooters around the world.
But as winter digs in throughout the United States, a sobering reality is hitting scooter companies: the vehicles are crumbling under the rigorous wear and tear of riding on city streets. In some cases, scooters are lasting less than 30 days.
That’s where a startup called Superpedestrian sees its niche.
Founded in 2013, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup hopes to build a “platform” of sorts to power scooter rental startups. Its vehicles have an onboard computer to run diagnostic checks and report issues to a main hub, without requiring a rider to report the scooter as broken.
“The only solution to address this exploding demand for urban mobility is basically to truncate the space, to cut it off and make a smaller vehicle that’s specialized for cities,” CEO Assaf Biderman, who spend more than a decade in MIT’s Senseable City Lab working on robotics, big data, and AI to improve urban live, said in a recent interview with Business Insider.
Biderman’s the first to admit that it’s not a new idea. After all, bicycles and even scooters have been around for centuries, even before cars. But when scooters sit outside most of the day and see potentially dozens of riders on any number of terrains, the damage can add up quickly.
Superpedestrian’s value comes from detecting that damage before it happens. Biderman explains that the company’s “Core vehicle intelligence technology” consists of four computers that live inside the vehicle, be it a scooter or bicycle. Even non-vehicles such as vending machines can benefit from the company’s diagnostic tech. They’re constantly monitoring 100 things that could go wrong from battery level to wheel alignment or pressure,
“It’s designed to be totally agnostic because we realized that the landscape is going to shape up over a decade or two, not over months,” said Biderman. “We don’t know yet what will be the eventual modes that people will use.”
Biderman says the scooter Superpedestrian unveiled back in December can live for anywhere from nine to 18 months while holding a charge for three to seven days. Both of those measures would be far longer than what other firms have observed in operation and could be revolutionary for the industry financially.
So far, Superpedestrian has yet to announce any partners using its platform, though Biderman admitted the company is “working with major ride-hailing operators and many other companies.”
We should see the vehicles deployed sometime this year, he said.
“As urban transportation is transformed, a host of new vehicle technologies will be needed,” Biderman said. “from new types of micro-vehicles to further progress on zero-maintenance, to integration with autonomous driving, and many more. Superpedestrian is at the heart of all of this.”