A new report suggests that 200,000 accidents in the UK this year will involve an e-scooter.
The research, which was conducted by dashcam provider Nextbase, says that by the end of the year the electrically powered scooters will be in the hands of at least a million people and that one in five will be involved in an accident of some sort.
Such grim statistics offer something of a warning to fleet managers considering the implementation of mobility programmes that would include e-scooter usage. They arrive against a grisly backdrop that in the last few days has seen a teenager die riding an e-scooter and a small child given life-changing injuries following an accident with a motorized scooter.
However, riding an e-scooter remains an illegal activity in the UK, except for sanctioned pilot schemes in selected areas of the UK where e-scooters can be rented lawfully.
The latest such scheme is in Northampton, a city 68 miles north of London, where new technology is being used to influence correct rider behaviours. E-scooter operator Voi is trialling computer vision technology, pioneered by micromobility tech startup Luna, to help keep riders off pavements and keep vulnerable pedestrians safe.
There are two phases to the trial. In phase one a controlled user group will road test the technology to collect real-time visual information on the environment in which the e-scooter is being ridden, as well as detecting pedestrians in the e-scooter’s path. The technology will also be able to detect the riding surface, such as a bike lane, pavement, or roadway, and alert the rider accordingly with an audible alarm if they are riding inappropriately, for example, on a footpath.
In the second phase of the trial, scheduled late summer, about 100 cameras will be installed on the publicly available e-scooter fleet in Northampton. As well as the audible alert, this phase will explore the potential to automatically slow scooters if inappropriate riding is detected on footpaths or in heavily pedestrianised areas.
The camera can also help guide riders to park e-scooters in highly accurate ‘virtual docks’ to prevent street clutter, another issue that has haunted the growth of e-scooter mobility.
Data from the pilot will be shared with the city’s governing body so that it can collect a detailed record of how and where the e-scooters are being ridden, helping Voi to correct bad behaviour and enabling the city to have data driven insights into e-scooter use and the interactions with other modes of transport and pedestrians. By 2022, Luna expects to be able to integrate its camera technology directly into the stem or handlebars of the e-scooters for rent.
Fredrik Hjelm, co-founder and CEO of Voi Technology, said: “With computer vision e-scooters can be trained to see and recognise situations that are hazardous. This world-first pilot will set new standards of safety for this new form of transport. Having helped riders to take more than 60 million rides across Europe we understand deeply the issues involved in e-scooter safety and are always looking for ways to do better.”
While the Nextbase report paints a disturbing picture, fleet managers must consider that this is the function of unregulated usage, and developments such as the lawful Voi pilot scheme are crucial to improving the safety for corporate employees.
Continuous new technology development is also aimed at improving e-scooter safety. Superpedestrian from e-scooter provider LINK has just unveiled a breakthrough active safety system dubbed “Pedestrian Defense”. The new system not only detects unsafe behaviors but prevents them in real time in order to avoid serious injuries and points the way to future, more regulated rider environments.
“We have to keep the conversation open – and continue making our cities testbeds for experimentation,” says Carlo Ratti, architect, urban planner and director of the Senseable Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
“We are seeing the first glimpses of new mobility systems – based on autonomy, sharing, pervasive multi-modality, new vehicle form factors and real-time digital platforms. As citizens and public administrators we need to allow healthy innovation cycles to develop, to move our cities into the future.”