In the past decade, we have seen the growth of ridesharing services across the globe. Recently, the rideshare industry has expanded to include e-bike and e-scooter providers, indicating a revolution in the world of urban transportation is well and truly underway.
Using the already familiar hire-and-ride model, many companies have established themselves in cities around the world to provide an alternative to traditional forms of urban transportation. Most of us living in cities will have by now seen a boom in shared e-bikes and e-scooters, with bright-green Lime bikes and coral Voi scooters becoming an increasingly familiar feature. Even traditional car manufacturers have recognised the need and demand for more sustainable travel options, with Ford entering the shared e-micromobility market by acquiring Spin in 2018.
Significantly, the majority of these new micromobility providers emerging over the past five years share an ethos of technological innovation and seek to provide sustainable solutions. As electric micromobility options become increasingly popularised in urban centres we gain a stronger idea of their advantages including reduced carbon emissions, better monitoring and implementation of safety strategies, and general improvements to daily convenience.
Technology for the environment
Commentators have highlighted the environmental benefits of e-scooters and e-bikes as a sustainable solution for urban travel. In cities, e-bikes and e-scooters can substantially reduce air and sound pollution and traffic congestion. Currently, cities account for over 70% of global emissions, with traffic congestion playing a significant factor. As the world becomes increasingly urbanised, new and existing cityscapes need to be developed and adjusted in a manner that addresses the ever-pressing issues of climate change.
The 2019 INRIX National Traffic Scorecard revealed that in the US people lost an average of 99 hours a year to traffic jams. In addition, cities are only growing in size and population, while most urban transport systems are already nearing their maximum capacity. Research predicts that by 2050, around 2.5 billion more people will be living in urban areas globally. There is increasing pressure on city authorities to address these concerns, and e-micromobility shows strong potential in alleviating current urban problems.
By applying e-bikes and e-scooters to the rideshare model, companies have made electric vehicles accessible to a much larger audience, simultaneously reducing the need for gas and diesel-powered transport and normalising the use of electric transport technology.
However, for e-micromobility to be a truly impactful, sustainable and efficient solution, cities need to make reciprocal efforts to implement and improve infrastructure such as increasing the size and number of cycle lanes, providing designated parking areas and creating supportive policies that centre micromobility riders.
Technology for safety
The use of smart technology has become increasingly intertwined with the development of e-bikes and e-scooters. For shared micromobility providers and city authorities, there is major concern for the safety of riders and pedestrians. The lack of pre-existing legislation for both private and public e-bikes and e-scooters have resulted in a somewhat hostile reception from city authorities, with outright bans in places like Barcelona.
To address these safety concerns, e-micromobility developers and providers have been finding solutions in smart technology. Companies including Spin, Helbiz, Beam and Voi have been testing camera-based systems by Drover AI and Luna that can detect when riders are on pavements or are about to hit a pedestrian. Internet connectivity allows shared e-bikes and e-scooters to be automatically slowed or stopped based on this data, providing a much greater level of control to mitigate the consequences of unsafe riding practice.
The promising potential of smart technology for safety has also been recognised by Bird and Superpedestrian, who have used location-based approaches like GPS tracking to implement similar rider-assistance systems where speed restrictions based on local road laws or even complete shutdown of the vehicle can come into effect. Streetlogic and Terranet have been using AI-based systems, combining strategies of real time traffic analysis, forward-collision alerts, blind-spot monitoring and proximity warnings to improve rider and pedestrian safety.
Smart safety accessories have also been making their mark, such as Okai’s smart helmet that uses Bluetooth and front and rear LED displays to improve visibility, further emphasising the strength of the micromobility industry as a space that fosters technological innovation.
A promising future
E-micromobility provides an effective and long-term solution to our growing environmental and urban mobility concerns, though there is still much work to be done. Further and closer collaboration between cities and providers will be beneficial for the development of e-micromobility.
As with any emerging technologies, there will be obstacles that arise alongside breakthroughs. It is only by keeping an open outlook and productive attitude that will allow such innovations to really succeed.