- Segway-Ninebot unveiled a semi-autonomous e-scooter that should be available early next year, according to Reuters, and could dramatically change the scooter-sharing game.
- The three-wheeled device will automatically return to charging stations without a rider. The scooters reportedly will use artificial intelligence (AI) and be remotely controlled from the cloud.
- The company claims Uber and Lyft will be two of the customers for this product, but neither mobility company could confirm those plans when contacted by Smart Cities Dive. "We are always interested in seeing the latest innovations from potential partners like Ninebot, but we haven't yet made any commitments around this product," a Lyft spokesperson said via email.
The need for mobility company employees or contractors to collect, recharge and redistribute e-scooters each day is among these companies' highest operating expenses. Analysts suggest that it's one of the leading factors contributing to e-scooter operators not yet turning a profit. The possibility of lowering that expense by incorporating scooters that get themselves to and from chargers could prove attractive for operators.
Even so, the initial investment in each semi-autonomous scooter is rather steep. Segway-Ninebot's new scooters will cost around $1,400, while it sells traditional e-scooters to operators for about $100-$300, according to Reuters. The semi-autonomous models do appear to be more robust — featuring a third wheel, for example — than earlier versions, however, so they may last longer and boost owners' return on investment. Sturdier design could also contribute to rider safety and fewer falls.
Claiming Uber will be among the customers for semi-autonomous e-scooters is an interesting twist, considering Uber announced advancing toward semi-autonomous bicycles and e-scooters earlier this year. Uber hasn't said much about whether it would solely develop in-house semi-autonomous technologies or work with possible partners, such as Segway-Ninebot, to add the features to its branded micromobility vehicles.
Introducing semi-autonomous scooters paves the way for solving other micromobility issues like clutter. The devices potentially could move to a better drop-off/pick-up point if they are left in an inappropriate area, such as the middle of a sidewalk or crosswalk.
The devices might evolve to the point where customers could "call" scooters directly to them instead of tracking down a device via an electronic map. A "call" feature would also give users more choices and the ability to patronize a preferred brand, instead of simply relying on whichever scooter is closest. Or perhaps the scooters could be programed to automatically move to areas with high real-time demand rather than being manually re-distributed.
Progress is entirely dependent on whether companies will make the hefty investment to take up this new technology. Segway-Ninebot plans to begin road testing the semi-autonomous scooters next month and anticipates they will be commercially available the first quarter of next year.