For years residents have been bemoaning the buzzing of electric scooters on Santa Monica’s sidewalks, but it appears that new technology innovations will soon provide relief.
Leading the charge is micromobility company Spin, which was one of three companies chosen to participate in Santa Monica’s second shared mobility pilot program and will be rolling out sidewalk detection tech in July.
Sidewalk riding is a rampant issue across Los Angeles as it increases the risk of e-scooters colliding with pedestrians. While Santa Monica formally banned the practice in 2019, both the City and e-scooter companies recognize that this regulation is challenging to enforce.
Sidewalk detection technology has the power to curb the practice by allowing e-scooters to detect when they have been driven onto a sidewalk and produce a response.
In the case of Spin, their e-scooters will emit a warning sound and send a push notification to the user. Phuong Bui, Government Partnerships Manager at Spin, said the company could also build a function where their scooters slow to a stop on sidewalks, if the City indicated interest.
Spin’s sidewalk detection technology works through a combination of machine learning, computer vision and artificial intelligence. There is a forward downward facing camera on the front of each scooter which captures photos of the surface a rider is on.
“All of the images will be processed onboard the scooter, which will analyze the images in real time and be able to decipher, with over 95 percent accuracy, where the user is,” said Bui, adding that Spin further boosts accuracy by training their algorithms with specific information on the layout of Santa Monica.
E-scooter company Bird was also gearing up to launch sidewalk detection tech on its Bird 2 devices this summer, but the City put the brakes on its rollout when it did not select Bird to participate in the second shared mobility pilot program.
Bird is currently in the process of appealing this decision and it remains to be seen whether it will be allowed to continue operating in Santa Monica this summer. Bird’s technology does not use cameras, but instead relies on GPS mapping of the City’s streets and sidewalks
“Using the GIS City data that’s available, we’ve been comparing that with our internal data on our millions of trips in Santa Monica and mapping out the city to know when our receivers go on sidewalks,” said Director of Government Partnerships Tim Harter.
Under this technology, when Bird 2 scooters ride on a sidewalk they will beep and gradually slow down to a stop. Users will receive a message telling them to return to the road to resume normal speed.
According to Harter, Santa Monica was slated to be the first city in the US to receive this technology. The appeal decision will be released on June 22 and the second shared mobility pilot program will begin on July 1.