Death Valley’s the place for secret automotive prototypes…and scooters?

The climate is changing: Part 1

This is the first blog in a series on how Superpedestrian is addressing climate change, both to do our part to slow climate change and also to become resilient to its effects.

This is Sam. Sam is a field service engineer for Superpedestrian with a background in electro-mechanical design, energy and battery research, and clean mobility. He joined Superpedestrian to push forward a renewable energy future powered by electric mobility. Sam is a guy who’s very dedicated to this mission. How dedicated? Enough to volunteer to spend two days at Death Valley to see how our LINK by Superpedestrian scooters handle extreme heat.

Why Death Valley?

As the hottest place on earth, Death Valley is a magnet for companies heat-testing their products. In the summer, Death Valley has high temperatures from 110 to 120 degrees, and the National Park site advises you to “Travel prepared to survive.” This extreme heat makes for a perfect natural laboratory. It’s such a popular destination for automakers that there’s actually a permit system for testing cars in the national park.

You might not expect to see a scooter company testing where BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai are testing, but we pride ourselves on being unexpected. Unlike other scooter operators, we design and build our scooters from the ground-up. We already put our scooters through rigorous testing and go back to the lab to continuously make our scooter safer. When the Boston Globe visited Superpedestrian’s Cambridge Headquarters, they referred to our lab as a scooter “torture chamber,” a place where scooters and their parts are put through everything from bump tests simulating potholes to salt fogs to see how quickly they’ll rust.

Testing for extreme heat, though, requires extreme heat. Hence, Death Valley. Whereas most companies would model this environment in a computer or special test room, accept the outcome, and move on, Superpedestrian wants to actually put our scooters to the test.

Two days in Death Valley

Sam rolled into Death Valley around 10:30 in the morning in an RV packed with scooters, a lot of water, and a Nintendo Switch. He made camp at Furnace Creek, which holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth (134F on July 10, 1913). Sam says the heat was all-consuming, “I started to feel the first stages of dehydration and heat exhaustion just in the first hour. It was so extremely hot up to 114. It was over 100 between 9am — 11pm.”

Scooters baking in the sun

That first day, Sam set out the scooters to endure the extreme heat. While Sam wandered (staying close to the RV of course) to find 1 bar of 3G cell service, the scooters were able to change carriers on the fly and swap out to a local carrier. Since he had basically no service and the situation outside was miserable, Sam stayed in the relative oasis of the RV to take notes and pass the time playing Mario.

The second day is when things got a bit more interesting with some test riding in the morning. Sam repeated the test rides on each scooter later in the hottest part of the day to ensure they were functioning while still taking temperature readings from throughout the scooter.

Sam said that the trip went basically how he imagined. He reports that, “the scooters took the heat like champs,” in comparison to Sam himself who told us, “While I knew it would be hot, I didn’t think it would be THAT hot. I was drinking somewhere around 200 ounces of water a day since I would be dripping sweat just sitting in the A/C. Also, I was completely alone, since it was off-season, no one was working the campground, and nobody wants to go to Death Valley this time of year. It just wasn’t something I foresaw, plus it’s always a weird experience to be completely isolated from humans, especially in the middle of the desert. Just me and the coyotes.”

Ok, but isn’t this all a little extreme?

Scooters are a vital piece of reducing our transportation system’s dependence on cars, but they have to be reliable and resilient to climate change to be part of a long-term solution. That includes cities that are already extremely hot, and cities where climate change is making extreme heat a now regular occurrence. This year cities in the Pacific Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, experienced two heat waves that brought days of triple-digit temperatures, and they could still experience more. In addition to seeing if our scooters can expand into hotter markets, we are also interested in building scooters resilient enough to withstand the high temperatures becoming normal even in typically cooler climates.

To answer the question: no, besides the heat, this isn’t extreme. This is what we consider necessary to ensure that Superpedestrian’s scooter is and continues to be the safest, most reliable scooter on earth.

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