E-scooters have become indispensable in European cities. Providers mainly have problems with the high maintenance costs. Startups offering electric scooters for rent appear to be following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's famous motto: act fast and destroy things.
Their maintenance and repairs are already leading to enormous losses, not to mention vandalized vehicles. Superpedestrian, a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wants to solve at least some of these problems - with technologies from the bicycle industry.
The "Copenhagen Wheel" is more than a drive toy
A few years ago, the engineers developed their “Copenhagen Wheel” for electric bicycles. The high-tech module is mounted on the rear wheel. It can store energy every time you brake and then release it again to provide support on inclines or to increase your speed on the road. Its name is intended to evoke trends in the two-wheeler renaissance that originated in Copenhagen.
But there are also a number of additional functions at the heart of this new tool. Thanks to a series of sensors and a Bluetooth connection to the user's smartphone placed on the handlebars, the bike can monitor the speed, direction and distance traveled by the bike. Air pollution data is also collected.
Intelligent control in the wheel
Engineers have now transferred this established technology to e-scooters. Their remodeled vehicles are slightly wider and have a larger stem on the handlebars than known scooters. The company explains that the range of their scooters is much greater than comparable two-wheelers thanks to the “most efficient powertrain”. But that is only one aspect.
Superpedestrian also developed the "Vehicle Intelligence System", an intelligent controller for e-scooters or electric bicycles. Onboard microprocessors monitor many mechanical, electrical, and thermal aspects of the vehicle. These include, for example, higher temperatures in battery cells or minor changes in motor current. When such data is displayed, the controller autonomously and situationally takes action to protect the driver and vehicle in nanoseconds.
Targeted fault diagnosis helps with repairs
If technical errors occur while driving, the system switches itself off in milliseconds and sends an error log to the operator or in the case of private owner to the driver. This makes repairs much easier. For example, if a capacitor has been damaged, the Vehicle Intelligence system will immediately identify the problem and run a system check. If there is enough residual capacity to continue safe operation, the speed of the scooter will simply decrease. At the same time, a service request is transmitted to the cloud. Technicians recognize whether only small on-site measures are required that can be carried out the next time it is charged, or whether the scooter needs to be taken to a workshop.
Better to repair than scrap
These uses came as a surprise to Assaf Biderman, CEO and founder of Superpedestrian. In 2009 he started building a new electric bike and the Copenhagen Wheel was born. In 2013, the engineer decided to develop diagnostic and control software that transmits data to a cloud in real time.
When the Superpedestrian team started commercializing their technologies, e-scooters mushroomed. Scooters quickly became a popular and controversial way of getting around.
"A common problem is that different components such as batteries, motors and controllers are produced by different manufacturers," writes Andy Gimpiel.
"The lack of protection and diagnostic options together with their electronically unconnected components makes maintenance and repair work so time-consuming that many providers prefer to scrap damaged vehicles instead of repairing them."
The supposed ecological benefit is quickly gone. It is precisely these disadvantages that the company founder wants to remedy now. Biderman believes that e-scooters are just the beginning of a technical revolution: "We will equip scooters and e-bikes and mopeds as well as closed vehicles and multi-wheel vehicles with our technology," says the company founder.
Minimize the number of kilometers driven while maximizing access to mobility for people.