27 Sep 19

Follow that scooter

Scooters are the new hype - fast, agile and flexible, they are finding their way among commuters. New technology for scooters bring hope that its growing pains, such as vandalism and unregulated parking, will be dealt with. 

Scooter chaos

Scooters are hip. They are fast, flexible, agile, yet dangerous and chaotic at the same time. Since they are dockless they can be left behind wherever, even in trees and in the middle of the road. At the same time, they can be found driving anywhere, from the pavements over bike lanes to car lanes, with riders not only putting themselves at danger but other road users as well. That's why many cities around the world are putting legislative frameworks in place before scooters can operate. Other cities are even putting a halt to scooter activities altogether. 

Enter telematics

That's also the case in Los Angeles, where scooter companies have to obtain a permit to operate in the streets. One of the requirements to obtain a permit is to submit real-time location data for the entire fleet. Next, the city of LA uses the mobility data specification program (MDS) to track the location of every scooter on its roads. 

The data can be used to improve infrastructure – such as creating new bike and/or scooter lanes and/or parking spots. On the other hand, it can also be used to control scooter companies themselves, with regard to speed regulations and distribution to underserved areas. 

Open Source

LA is not the only city using MDS to track and manage the scooter fleet in the cities. As an open-source tool, all cities can download and use it. More specifically, the mission of Lacuna, the startup behind the MDS used for scooters in LA, is to put the power back in the hands of policymakers to better manage alternative forms of transportation. 

Open data?

Yet, there is a shadow side to the fact that MDS is open source and able to track all micromobility devices driving around. This is precisely why Uber already expressed its worries about the MDS system, claiming it would lead to ‘an unprecedented level of surveillance’. At the same time not only fear is at play, but legislative issues with regard to privacy regulation as well. Not to forget the doom scenario in which the data could be hacked or fall into the wrong hands. 

At the other side of the world

While DMS and Lacuna are operating in the US, Europe has its own telematics startup in the field, Luna, founded by a consortium of European leaders in telematics and related businesses in order to launch a solution to the major safety concerns with regard to scooters. 

To track the scooters, Luna provides a built-in telematics device, which can locate the e-scooter with 10 cm-level positioning accuracy. The tracking both serves to locate the scooter and to regulate riding behaviour and parking. Thanks to its combination of GNSS/GPS positioning with an integrated correction service (RTK) the device reaches a higher accuracy than the current telematics solutions on the market.  In addition, by adding cameras equipped with machine vision to recognise scooter parking spaces on their installed QR codes/barcodes or even 2D images, Luna tries to fill the gaps in the available GPS data. 

In addition, the device will not only follow the scooter, but the driver as well with helmet detection (the scooter won’t start without the driver wearing a helmet), and AI-based weather and obstacle detection. 

So, to scooter or not? 

The fact that various companies over the world are working on similar solutions for scooters shows not only the demand for it, yet the will to solve issues surrounding scooters. While various cities and companies could see the scooter as an unsafe micromobility device that will disappear from the streets as fast as it appeared there in the first place, the improving technology could solve the issues at play and provide a reliable and safe micromobility device that is on the streets to stay.

Authored by: Fien Van den steen