Wheels is the maker of the funky-looking seated electric scooter you might have seen around US cities lately. Not quite electric bicycles yet still not quite like the rest of the e-scooters out there, their seated design is said to be safer and more comfortable. And now the company is adding a new level of safety to its rides.
As Wheels explained in a new blog post:
“We started Wheels in order to offer a meaningfully safer option in the micromobility space – not just to create another scooter or e-bike company. While our device provides all the benefits that micromobility has to offer, from making transportation more sustainable and accessible to reducing traffic, our approach to safety actually addresses some of the biggest problems in the industry. That’s why from the beginning, our form factor has been completely different – with bigger wheels, a lower center of gravity, and a seat for more points of contact with the rider.
Today, we’re introducing a completely new safety initiative that has the potential to significantly advance the industry – we’re outfitting our bikes with a shareable and smart helmet that lives on the bike and is free for riders to use, with a biodegradable headliner that can be peeled off before each use.”
And it certainly doesn’t take mental gymnastics to understand why this could be a big deal in terms of electric scooter safety – an issue that has received a significant amount of warranted attention lately.
Studies from California to Texas have found that head injuries are among the most common electric scooter injuries. One study even found that less than 1% of injured riders were wearing a helmet.
Companies like Bird and Lime do provide helmets, but riders have to go through a proactive process to receive the helmets. Wheels, on the other hand, wants to make wearing a helmet as easy as finding a scooter. As in, it’s always there. As far as Wheels is concerned (and I intend to agree), if the helmet isn’t already with the vehicle, riders aren’t going to go out of their way to find and use one.
As explained by Dr. Tarak K. Trivedi, Emergency Department Physician and Clinical Instructor from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA:
“Very few people carry a helmet around with them every time they leave their home, but many risk a severe brain injury by hopping onto a fast-moving micromobility vehicle. Integrating a helmet onto the devices sends a strong message, gives riders an opportunity to protect themselves, and sets an example for all other companies in this space.”
Wheels adds a smart helmet to its e-scooters
And that’s why Wheels’ new helmet is designed to live on the vehicle. As the company explains:
“The Wheels helmet locks into the rear fender of the bike, and riders will be able to unlock it for free via the app at the time of their ride. Once unlocked, the rider can adjust the fit and peel off a biodegradable headliner for a ready-to-use helmet. Sensors in the bike recognize when the helmet is being used. For our initial rollout, we will be offering riders a 20% discount for unlocking and using the helmet that comes with their bike.”
And the best part is that Wheels doesn’t have to redesign its vehicles or make any drastic modifications:
“In keeping with our goal of sustainability, we’ve leveraged our own swappable parts model to add our helmet to existing bikes without requiring an entirely new device. The helmet can be added to all of our current bikes with a simple retrofit to the rear fender – no throwaway batteries, motors, or bikes. As we continue to innovate and evolve our products, we will continue to look for ways to reuse as much of our bike as possible, and recycle any and all elements that we can’t repurpose.”
I’m definitely a fan of this plan.
Helmets protect riders during accidents – that’s indisputable fact. But getting riders to wear them while using shared mobility devices has been a struggle for every company so far.
Some have made good strides in the right direction, such as how Boaz Bikes provides bicycle helmets in the baskets of its seated scooters.
But by integrating new tech into helmets, Wheels is stepping it up a notch. Not only can they tell if the helmet is being worn via its embedded sensors, but they can use that to incentivize riders further. And the tear-out hygienic liner is a great idea too, though I hope those wind up in trash cans and not on sidewalks, even if they are biodegradable. From what I understand, the helmets have around 20 liners in them and the pad of liners can be replaced by the same team that comes around to swap in fresh batteries. Sounds like a good system to me.
Basically, I like what I see in terms of the evolution of electric scooter sharing programs. When they rolled out nearly two years ago, it was the Wild West. Today things are still wild, but we’re starting to see some order being brought to the chaos.
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