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Roboscooters Will Go Mainstream Before Robotaxis
While the concept of roboscooters (or self-driving scooters) may seem outlandish, the technology is likely to become mainstream before the robotaxi, though the latter has seen more hype. Compared to robotaxis, roboscooters are the following:
- Safer to operate: Since they aren’t transporting multiple people, any roboscooter crashes would be much less damaging since e-scooters travel at slow speeds and are lightweight (most are 25-30 lbs while the typical robotaxi is 3,500-7,000 lbs). While an errant e-scooter to the knee would surely be painful, it’s difficult to imagine how roboscooter technology glitches could seriously harm or kill pedestrians, unlike robotaxis, which have unfortunately killed numerous pedestrians.
- Lower in cost: Roboscooter technology is more cost-effective and easier to install since it relies heavily on smartphone components. Conversely, automated technology for robotaxis adds $10,000-$15,000 in extra cost per vehicle.
- Easier to clean in a post-pandemic world: Due to the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, commuters are moving toward low cost transport that incorporates physical distancing. Robotaxis have far more surface area to clean in between uses compared to e-scooters. Roboscooters can be easily moved to sanitation stations after each use —a simple wipe down of the seat and handlebars is all that is needed.
Roboscooters can also make e-scooter sharing more profitable, more sustainable, and less messy. The technology would remove the huge cost and environmental impact of sending out teams in vans or trucks to relocate or charge e-scooters. Nearly half of Bird’s (one of the largest micromobility providers) gross revenue generated per ride goes toward paying contractors to collect and charge its e-scooters each day. Additionally, roboscooters can be moved out of the public right-of-way, avoiding sidewalk clutter and addressing the number one complaint against e-scooter sharing programs.
Roboscooters Hit the Road
The first roboscooter program in the US was launched near Atlanta, Georgia in May 2020. The 6-month public pilot is led by automated technology provider Tortoise and e-scooter operator Go X. Riders can summon one of the 100 e-scooters in the program through the Go X app, and the service uses automated technology combined with remote teleoperation to reposition and transport the scooters directly to users. (The level of automation is expected to increase over time, with teleoperation cited as an interim step.) In addition, major e-scooter manufacturer Segway-Ninebot introduced a self-driving, three-wheeled scooter in August 2019. The KickScooter T60 uses AI and remote cloud capabilities, and Segway claims Uber and Lyft are interested in the roboscooters.
Major Potential with Major Limitations
While roboscooters potentially offer a wide variety of benefits to consumers and the micromobility industry, there could be major limitations to deployment if consumers don’t accept the technology. The most effective and economically advantageous use of roboscooters will likely be at night—repositioning the e-scooters on empty roads for charging and distributing the vehicles across neighborhoods for equitable access the next day. Daytime summoning of roboscooters directly to consumers could be much more problematic from a vandalism perspective, and safety could be compromised if the vehicles aren’t well integrated with cars, bikes, pedestrians, and other forms of transport. Nevertheless, the myriad benefits of roboscooters, including their relative simplicity and ease of deployment, mean that they are likely to see large-scale adoption before robotaxis.