Superpedestrian Builds an Advanced New Scooter

By Steve Schaefer

Link scooter 01

Electric scooters are popular in congested urban spaces. Easier to use than a car, with no parking issues, they are also great for last-mile connections to public transit. However, scooters have some issues, including safety, reliability, and profitability for fleet operators. And, of course, there is the current concern of staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. But scooters have an important role to play in the future of urban mobility.

The weaknesses of scooters are well known—they’re easily damaged and maintenance is expensive and time consuming. What was needed was a better scooter, so Superpedestrian developed one.

I spoke with company founder and CEO Assaf Biderman about their scooter and the LINK application they are rolling out to access it.

Origins

BIderman moved to the United States from Israel in 2001 and co-founded the Senseable City Laboratory at MIT. Using his Physics background, he and the team focused on micro vehicles and the technology to make them safer and more cost effective. They used artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and robotics to address urban transportation problems in new ways.

Superpedestrian was spun out of MIT as a robotics company in 2013. They then spent more than four years developing their proprietary Vehicle Intelligence System (VIS) and introduced it in their first product—the Copenhagen Wheel. This product is an amazing red disc/motor that learns your biking style and adds power to support your ride. You can buy a bike with the wheel or add it to your own bike (they will custom-build it to fit).

Since 2018, Superpedestrian’s team of talented designers, developers and engineers has focused on engineering and validating a superior scooter for shared fleets.

The Urban Transportation Problem

“There will be two plus billion more people on the planet by 2050,” said Biderman. “Where can we put them? How do we share the road space? The only solution is multi-mobility.”

That means providing more one- or two-person vehicles, with autonomous capability and the ability to monitor themselves to prevent them from breaking down.

“It’s like an immune system,“ said BIderman. “Are they safe to ride before starting? What’s the chance of electronic failure before riding? There are hundreds of things.”

The ideal system avoids problems by diagnosing them in advance and fixing or preventing damage to key components before they break.

“For example, a cut wire can be identified and fixed before it leads to a bigger problem,” said Biderman.

The company had a three-part goal for their new scooter:

  1. Provide a safer ride
  2. Make them cost effective for fleets
  3. Create a scalable platform that brings sustainability to the city, integrating with public transit and plans the city makes for scooters, such as protected bike paths

What Makes the Superpedestrian Scooter Different

Although it looks similar, the Superpedestrian scooter is fundamentally different from regular scooters. It has a full-blown operating system (OS) onboard, developed over years of research and engineering by the company’s robotics engineers.

As Biderman explains, a basic scooter has motors and basic parts, but it can know what’s going on with the scooter itself and report back issues in the cloud so they can be fixed.

Superpedestrian has spent more than seven years developing their Vehicle Information System. Its more than 140 indicators monitor or provide:

  • Power from the motor, electric braking, and energy in and out of the battery
  • Vehicle encryption for cybersecurity
  • Decision-making ability in real time to prevent most safety hazards
  • Temperature/water penetration to help prevent component failure
  • Reporting ability – generate a repair ticket
  • A cloud data layer

Your basic scooter doesn’t contain any of this. Amazingly, the high-tech Superpedestrian scooter costs about the same to manufacture.

“This system enables you to scale micro vehicles to the millions,” said Biderman.

You’d expect that the system would use lots of sensors to detect vehicle behavior, as you’ll find in a car. But, per Biderman, they are expensive, need calibration, and can break.

“We found a way to do it without the sensors,” he said. “It’s a machine learning process, where we train the system to attribute functionality of components to failures upstream. It’s a very low-cost, reliable system.”

So, how does the scooter communicate when there’s a problem?

“Most data isn’t significant to the user,” said Biderman. “But if something goes wrong, the scooter will stop safely, and tell you why.”

With the data living on the scooter itself, Superpedestrian’s scooter can implement geofences in under one second.

The Superpedestrian scooter has a larger, 84-cell battery, for a greater range.  This reduces charging frequency, keeping the scooter in use more of the time.

Easier and Safer to Ride with a Lower Center of Gravity

While some scooters put the battery on the vertical part of the scooter, Superpedestrian installs it under the foot panel. A lower center of gravity makes it easier to control the scooter. Also, the engineers designed the scooter to work optimally for most people—the 50th-percentile man and woman as well as a shorter female and a 95th-percentile man. The angle of the upper section and handlebars is carefully planned as well.

The Superpedestrian scooter stops in a shorter distance than a standard scooter. One reason is that it uses a dual mechanical braking system. Each lever actuates regenerative braking, which helps charge the battery and reduce wear on the mechanical brakes. It’s a system used in electric cars.

However, in cars, when the battery is full, or the battery is hot or is below a certain temperature, regeneration is turned off. How to make it available all the time in a scooter?

“We found other ways to dissipate energy,” said Biderman. “For safe stopping, it’s important that the brakes feel the same all the time to the rider, so they don’t apply too little or too much pressure.”

Built to Last

Scooters are notorious for having short lives, taking abuse from various riders and rough handling. Per Biderman, the real problem with longevity isn’t mechanical as much as it is electronic.

“Our software ensures that the vehicle doesn’t experience any fundamental electronic issues,” he said. “Replacing batteries and controllers is where you get a total loss.”

The Superpedestrian scooter is designed to take at least 2,500 trips, far more than the average scooter. They also build the scooter to withstand much more stress than you’d expect. Their scooter can withstand one ton of vertical load, for example.

“If a big guy is riding the scooter and hits a pothole, it can create a lot of force—our scooter is able to tolerate that,” explained Biderman.

As for vandalism and theft, Superpedestrian is prepared.

“We can easily replace a plastic fender,” said Biderman. And the structure itself is sturdy enough to withstand vandalism. All of the cables and wires are hidden inside the vehicle for safety and security.

When and Where can I Ride One?

Superpedestrian has acquired the Zagster fleet management system and is offering their scooter to consumers via the LINK brand. The LINK app gives you access to the scooters, and it will be rolled later this year in cities in the U.S. and Europe.

To help solve the climate crisis and urban mobility issues, Superpedestrian is providing scooters that are safe, dependable, and scalable and profitable for fleets.

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