Don’t call Ghostbusters if you spot a scooter moving without a rider in downtown Boise, Idaho. Ford-owned Spin has developed a surprisingly advanced electric scooter named S-200 that can be operated remotely.
Spin — which Ford bought in 2018 and calls its micromobility subsidiary — explained it gave the S-200 three wheels for improved stability, better braking, and to ensure it stays up without a kickstand. Users will notice a difference when riding it: It’s reportedly safer than a two-wheeler, and pedestrians won’t need to hop over stray S-200s while walking to the corner store.
Because it stands up on its own, an operator can park it remotely thanks to an impressive armada of technology that includes front- and rear-facing cameras, computer vision, machine learning, a visual navigation system, and software provided by a company called Tortoise, according to Spin. That means that, if a rider leaves the S-200 in the middle of a sidewalk, in front of your buddy’s driveway, in a handicapped parking spot, or somewhere else where it’s definitely not supposed to be, a member of the remote operations team can reposition it wirelessly. Ford points out operators will also move scooters left in areas where they’re unlikely to get picked up again.
Boise will receive up to 300 remote-controlled S-200s this spring. Walking downtown won’t be as dangerous as it sounds, because the scooters are only programmed to move themselves at up to 3 mph.
Looking ahead, Ford notes that the same technology used to remotely park the S-200 will allow users to avoid walking a few blocks by summoning one to their location with a purpose-designed smartphone app, either in real-time or in advance. This feature will be available in late 2021, and it doesn’t make the S-200 automated; someone on the other end of the app will guide the scooter to your location. Until then, the Ford and Spin will continue to form partnerships with city governments interested in deploying self-parking scooters on their sidewalks.
Popularized by Lime, among other firms, electric scooters were welcomed with open arms in the middle of the 2010s, but they quickly became a nuisance in cities big and small around the world. While motorists who park illegally get a ticket, anyone can leave a scooter wherever they see fit and let someone else worry about moving it if it’s in the way. On rare but not unheard of occasions, scooters end up in ditches, in trees, and in rivers.
Copenhagen, Denmark, is generally viewed as a mobility-friendly city, but the mayor proposed to ban electric scooters from the historic center and the adjacent neighborhoods in late 2020 to restore a semblance of order. On our side of the pond, Miami suspended its e-scooter program to stop underage riding and sidewalk clutter.