- Micromobility tech firm Tortoise and e-scooter operator Go X launched a public pilot on Wednesday of the world's first teleoperated scooter fleet in Peachtree Corners, GA, just outside of Atlanta.
- Riders can use the Go X app to "call" an e-scooter, which will signal a remote teleoperator to "reposition" the scooter and deliver it to the rider. Once the rider indicates they're finished with the scooter, a teleoperator then guides the scooter back to a home base for sanitation and disinfection before its next use.
- The partnership was formed through Curiosity Lab, a 5G-enabled living lab in Peachtree Corners, that will work with the companies on gathering information and feedback about the pilot before the companies look to deploy the fleets elsewhere. "It's crawl, walk, run," said Betsy Plattenburg, executive director of Curiosity Lab, in an interview with Smart Cities Dive. "We’re in that 'walk' phase, and what they hope to do is have great stats, great ridership and then just roll this out in other places."
Earlier this year, the City of Peachtree Corners passed an ordinance mandating all shared micromobility devices deployed in the city be capable of automated repositioning — a feature currently only offered by the Tortoise technology.
"The goal of this policy is to ensure the permitting and deployment of any such device is consistent with the safety and well-being of all users of the public right-of-way," the City of Peachtree Corners, GA wrote in its ordinance.
Due to its proximity to the metro Atlanta region, the Peachtree Corners government "saw how messy micromobility can be from littering perspective if you don’t have this tech," Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder and president of Tortoise, told Smart Cities Dive in an interview. Tortoise's tech aims to solve that "number one complaint that cities have about shared scooters, which is that they're a mess," he said.
By enabling teleoperated repositioning of the scooters, Tortoise can move the devices out of the public right-of-way, even back to locations where the devices can be charged or sanitized. In an effort to promote health measures amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Go X has set up a sanitation station in Peachtree Corners where vehicles are disinfected and marked with a sticker to indicate they are ready for use.
Despite previous misclassifications that Tortoise aims to serve as an "autonomous scooter startup," the company hopes to offer a "hybrid" solution in cities that uses both autonomy and teleoperations to reposition scooters.
"We think that even 10 years from now, there will be parts of repositioning like crossing an intersection or interacting with pedestrians where you’re going to want human judgment guiding that interaction," Shevelenko said.
Beyond this pilot, it's unclear which cities will be open to the technology — "most of the time, there is no framework that exists for allowing or disallowing what we're doing," Shevelenko said — but the company is certain its tech will enable "the best of all worlds" in terms of reducing scooter litter and maintaining the convenience and joy of the original e-scooter rider experience.