Over the past three years, the micromobility industry has learned a lot about the safety and sustainability perils of scooters that don’t stand up to shared use. Subpar vehicles are a risk to riders and the bottom line; last year alone the largest scooter share operators took a combined $500 million hit on fleet depreciation. That’s a lot of scooter carcasses.
In response, many companies are now designing a portion of their own mechanical and electronic components in-house. Still, none are operating a scooter fully engineered from the wheels up — none except Superpedestrian. Superpedestrian, maker of the LINK scooter, is the only fully vertically-integrated micromobility operator offering an in-house engineered electric scooter (Figure 1).
Learning from the missteps of others
The first generation of shared e-scooters were rebranded consumer products not designed to withstand the demands of shared use. In addition to myriad safety concerns, this off-the-shelf approach often meant that some shared e-scooters only provided about a month of rides before being sent to the scrap yard.
To engineer a better e-scooter, Superpedestrian set out to understand what was causing consumer model e-scooters to fail. We outfitted a few widely-deployed models with sensors and test-rode them extensively. It quickly became clear that merely retrofitting these vehicles for sharing would never cut it. Not only were these scooters flimsy, but the internal components were mismatched and incompatible; subsystems that aren’t designed to work together can easily fail when working in concert, sometimes in unexpected and in potentially dangerous ways.
Furthermore, consumer model e-scooters did not provide comprehensive, real-time performance data, leaving operators largely in the dark about whether or not a vehicle was operational or safe to ride. Lack of vehicle data resulted in expensive vehicle repair and maintenance regimes that impacted the financial viability of shared scooter operations.
Engineering for 2,500+ rides
We took data from our vehicle tests and determined the exact engineering specifications required to achieve 2,500 rides in a vehicle’s lifetime — up to 5x as many rides as the industry average. Next, we built, tested, and iterated, using our proprietary Vehicle Intelligence System (VIS — described in more detail below) to measure performance. Each iteration went through 67 different tests, including riding over cobblestones and up and down hills, submerging vehicles in water, and stressing the battery and brakes.
While this kind of testing is commonplace for cars, it was new to micro-vehicles. We didn’t take any shortcuts; we stayed in the lab until we had a product we knew would be safe and reliable enough for our family members to ride. After more than seven years developing the internal systems, two years of mechanical engineering and refining, and six months of real-world riding, we approved mass production. We are now operating our revolutionary LINK scooter in over half a dozen markets in the U.S. and Europe.
Designing for rider safety
LINK scooters look different for a reason. Compared to other scooters (Figure 2), they have beefier handlebars, thicker necks, and no-slip foot decks that are wider and longer than those of the average scooter.
Look a little closer and you will see more differentiators: two mechanical hand brakes in addition to the electronic brake; dual headlights; rear lights that are significantly brighter than the competition’s; and a lighted beacon on the handlebar that communicates the vehicle’s readiness to ride and reacts to geofenced zones. These physical features make the LINK Scooter more robust, more reliable, and more comfortable to ride.
The Vehicle Intelligence System (VIS) — LINK’s safety advantage
While LINK scooters feature major physical differences, the most important distinction between LINK and other models is invisible to the naked eye. At the heart of Superpedestrian’s LINK scooter is the patented Vehicle Intelligence System (VIS). VIS is a collection of sensors, firmware, and onboard diagnostic technology that monitors the mechanical and electrical status of the entire vehicle in real-time, and autonomously resolves a majority of potential issues (Figure 3).
The VIS system — developed by our in-house design and engineering team — is composed of five onboard microprocessors and over 75 sensors that work together to predict, detect and avert more than 100 common electronic and mechanical issues that could cause other scooters to fail. When a LINK scooter detects a potential issue, such as a battery on the verge of overheating, it takes immediate action to protect both the rider and the scooter — in this case by automatically attenuating motor power to cool the battery. This autonomous technology helps keep riders safe and scooters operational, often without impacting the rider’s experience.
Self-protection and self-diagnosis
If a LINK scooter cannot autonomously protect itself from an issue, the vehicle will self-diagnose the problem, automatically make itself unavailable for rental, and auto-generate a repair ticket. This repair ticket will be sent to the smartphone of one of our field crewmembers, and will include the scooter’s self-diagnosis as well as detailed instructions for how to quickly fix the issue. Some issues that can arise with shared scooters in particular are shown in Figure 4.
Prioritizing a safe ride for our customers, every time
VIS allows us to implement autonomous safety checks before each ride to ensure that our scooters are safe for every customer (Figure 5). The pre-ride check can detect any potential failures in the brakes, lights, motor, battery, and electronics components onboard the vehicle.
This level of internal vehicle visibility is unprecedented in the micromobility industry, and offers an additional layer of protection to our riders. If the scooter is safe and ready to ride, this indicated via a green light on the handlebar.
Superpedestrian is doing micromobility differently
Over the past 7.5 years, Superpedestrian solved tough technological problems to enable our LINK scooters to do what others cannot: take care of themselves on the road by self-detecting, protecting, and reporting. These VIS innovations are made possible by the automated control technologies which we engineer entirely in-house. We take this thoughtful approach in everything we do and we are confident that riders and cities will notice the LINK difference.
Superpedestrian invested the time up front to make sure that our LINK scooters are not only the safest and most compliant, but also the most reliable and sustainable, lasting for at least 2,500 rides. With average usage rates, that translates into several years of use before they are responsibly recycled.
Speaking of recycling, in an upcoming post I’ll delve into the lifecycle of a LINK scooter, and how that ties in with our overall sustainability strategy.