Mar 31, 2022 - Technology

E-scooters that stop if you speed

Three riders on e-scooters on a city street.
Photo courtesy of Superpedestrian

Don't speed, swerve or ride illegally on a sidewalk in one of the new scooters from Superpedestrian — its "Pedestrian Defense" technology will forcibly slow you to a stop if you misbehave.

Why it matters: Safety concerns are holding cities back from deploying more e-scooters as alternatives to cars. Superpedestrian's new system could help snuff out dangerous moves by riders, potentially broadening e-scooter acceptance and making cities safer.

Driving the news: Superpedestrian, a company spun out of MIT in 2013 that runs shared e-scooter networks in 60 cities globally, just raised $125 million to deploy Pedestrian Defense, an advanced AI safety system.

  • "It takes in data from a lot of different sensors, and it not only detects when somebody's riding on a sidewalk, it also can correct that behavior," Jamie Perkins, director of communications for Superpedestrian, tells Axios.
    • It can also tell "when somebody is repeatedly aggressively swerving or hard-braking, or riding the wrong way on a one-way street," she said. "And we can slow the scooter down and stop it, just like on a sidewalk."
  • First, a light on the handlebar will flash red.
  • Then, if the rider doesn't shape up, Pedestrian Defense will start to reduce the vehicle's speed — eventually bringing it to a full (and safe) stop.
  • The rider is notified through an app why they've stopped, "so they can move the scooter back out into the street and be on their way," Perkins says.

Superpedestrian — which operates its LINK e-scooter network in cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego — says its technology can "detect a much wider array of unsafe riding behavior than any competitor, including sidewalk riding, stunt riding, aggressive swerving and 'salmoning' against traffic."

Where it stands: Pedestrian Defense will be deployed this year, starting in 25 cities in the U.S. and Europe.

  • It'll know the places where it's legal to ride on the sidewalks and won't disrupt riders who are obeying the law.
  • It'll also know, via geofencing, where it's illegal to park an e-scooter, and will alert riders when they've left their vehicle in the wrong place.
  • And it can identify when a scooter needs to be repaired and, in some cases, fix it remotely.

"The existential issues [for micromobility operators] are scooter parking and rider behavior," Perkins says. "It's still a really new industry — the first scooters rolled out on the street 5 years ago."

Between the lines: E-scooter injuries and crashes are a rising problem in cities — as is the perception that they're unsafe.

  • "For the elderly pedestrian who thinks they're about to get creamed in a sidewalk or crosswalk, it's harrowing," Superpedestrian's director of development and public affairs, Paul White, told Smart Cities Dive.
  • "Norway has capped the number of electric scooters for hire in Oslo and banned them completely after 11 p.m. — when users are more likely to be drunk — in a bid to curb accidents," the Daily Mail reported last year.

The other side: A "strong safety record" is prompting New York City to expand its e-scooter pilot in the Bronx in June.

  • "In less than a year, the three e-scooter share companies in the pilot's first phase [Bird, Lime and Veo] have already recorded more than 480,000 trips without any deaths or serious injuries," NYC's Department of Transportation said.
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