Photo: Tortoise

Scooters that (somewhat) drive themselves are now a reality — at least in Peachtree Corners, a suburb right outside of Atlanta.

Driving the news: Scooter rental company Go X and Tortoise, a startup that's aiming to build self-driving tech for scooters, are rolling out their first fleet of 100 scooters in the Georgia town as part of a six-month pilot program with local tech incubator Curiosity Lab.

  • "This is the first time you have the ability to have this experience as a rider where you press a button on your phone and a scooter comes to you," Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko tells Axios.

How it works: Riders in PeachTree Corners can open the Go X app and hit a button to summon the nearest scooter to them.

  • Traveling at about three to five miles per hour, it would take about 15 minutes to reach a rider who's half a mile away.
  • In between rides, the scooters will travel back to one of six hubs in the city where Go X workers will clean and sanitize them and take care of any other maintenance needs, like recharging them.

Be smart: For now, the scooters are operated remotely by Tortoise staff in Mexico City to help refine the tech while the firm amasses training data, though the plan is to eventually rely on fully self-driving technology instead of humans.

Between the lines: "The most COVID-19-related piece is the ability to efficiently get the scooters to be cleaned," says Shevelenko.

  • "The other main value prop is to not have sidewalk clutter — from the city’s point of view, this is a solution to not having scooters cluttering it," he adds. "[The hubs] are safe parking spots for the scooters."
  • The scooter rental companies, which pay Tortoise based on usage, could get more use out of their vehicles if more people decide to take a ride because they don't worry about having to go look for one.
  • Some experts also predict a boom in scooter and bike use in the near future as people look for alternatives to public transit, which may feel too risky during the current pandemic.

What's next: Tortoise will be deploying its scooters in San Jose, Calif. in the coming weeks, and in three more cities later in the summer in partnership with scooter companies.

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Kim Hart, author of Cities
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