Technology leads to the electric scooter invasion

By | September 16, 2019

What do the names Beam; Bird; Bolt; Circ; Dott; Jump; Lime; Poppi; Scoot; Skip and Trotti have in common? With less than seven years of history in this market, not many of these are household names…yet. This is despite the fact that some of these companies are worth over US$ 2 billion.

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One of the aspects of technology that I have always enjoyed is that one plus one often equals much more than two. Many products are developed with a specific purpose in mind and, in seemingly the blink of an eye, the technology is being used in an entirely different way.

Think GPS (Global Positioning System). When Pentagon officials first launched the project in 1973, they envisaged huge military advantages by being able to track the location of a submarine or deliver bombs with pinpoint accuracy. Most of us today associate GPS with “turn left in five hundred metres.”

When John Daniell invented the ‘Daniell Cell’ battery in 1836, this first practical battery was used extensively to power the new telegraph networks. I admit there has been slightly more than the blink of an eye but the current range of development of batteries is driven by electric vehicles and mobile phones, neither of which existed in 1836.

Back to my list of brand names. I am writing this as I sit in Prague on a mini-tour of Europe in a way that would not have been possible only a few years ago. When you combine a range of technologies – 4G networks; smartphones; credit cards; GPS and batteries the obvious outcome is…electric scooter hire!

This is a market segment that is currently exploding throughout Europe. The concept seems simple enough – with our modern technology. A company buys a large number of electric scooters and fits them with GPS tracking devices and a QR code.

When anyone wants to use an electric scooter, they download an app, add their credit card details, use location services to locate the nearest available scooter and then scan the QR code with their phone. That scooter is assigned to that person and it is automatically unlocked for use.

The initial fee is typically one to two dollars and then a fee in the vicinity of fifteen cents per minute is charged until the ride is finished in the app. As one door closes another opens and there are now people who willingly collect e-scooters at night to charge them at home and deliver them back into the city the next morning for a very modest fee from the e-scooter company.

During the development of all of the parts of the technology required for this, not one person imagined that their development would lead to this outcome but, once the parts were available, it took some innovative thinking to create an industry.

It hasn’t been without controversy though. One pedestrian was recently killed when hit by an electric scooter and several scooter riders have died when tangling with vehicles. Belgium has introduced a speed limit.

Sweden has placed a ban of any devices capable of travelling faster than 20kmh. In bicycle friendly Copenhagen, cyclists are now complaining about crowding of their lanes by scooters.

  • Mathew Dickerson is the founder of regional tech and communications company Axxis Technology.

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