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‘Self-driving’ shared electric scooters are here – Are they awesome or terrifying?

Shared electric scooter provider Go X is combining its scooters with self-driving tech from the company Tortoise to solve the first and last step problem of shared e-scooters: finding and returning the scooters.

With companies like Bird and Lime, shared electric scooters are distributed around a city and riders must hunt them down with an app.

When riders have completed their journey, the scooters are left anywhere and the cycle continues until the scooter’s battery is nearly empty and it is picked up by a worker for charging.

Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners (CLPC) is now rolling out their solution to make this process more efficient: Go X electric scooters that automatically drive to your location, then return on their own to a charging/disinfecting station after your journey ends. The scooter uses its main front wheel for driving power while under self-driving mode, but relies on a pair of training wheel-style outrigger wheels to balance. The outrigger wheels are folded forward when a rider takes control of the scooter.

Watch a pack of the scooters below. The technology is impressive, though I can’t help but feel a certain horror-flick vibe of being chased down by a pack of robo-scooters.

We actually got a chance to check out an early demonstration of Tortoises rider-less scooter tech last year at CoMotion LA.

The idea is that riders would summon a scooter in the same way they’d summon an Uber, from the app. And while the scooters are referenced as ‘self-driving’, they appear to be something of a hybrid between true self-driving and more traditional teleoperation, with Tortoise employees remotely helping to control their rider-free journeys.

To make this 6-month trial possible, the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree Corners, Georgia passed an ordinance mandating that all shared mobility devices in the city be capable of automated repositioning. The goal is to fight the problem of discarded scooters strewn about the city, as well as to increase accessibility.

As Brian Johnson, city manager of Peachtree Corners explained in a statement provided to Electrek:

“An important goal for us was to ensure that residents can enjoy the convenience of using e-scooters, while creating a world first in efficient, organized and advanced micromobility – right here in Peachtree Corners. As a reflection of our commitment to making cities smarter, we didn’t hesitate to partner with Tortoise to launch the first-ever fleet of self-driving e-scooters to be available for public use. Curiosity Lab empowers innovators like Tortoise and Go X to collaborate and discover other partners to test, prove and deploy novel technologies in a real-world environment.”

As US riders return to shared electric scooters while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the country, sanitization is on the minds of many. To calm riders, the scooters will be disinfected after each use once they return to their base station.

As CEO of Go X Alexander Debelov clarified:

“I am excited that we get to introduce the safest transportation solution for the post-COVID-19 world. While we made getting a scooter as magical and easy as ordering an Uber or Lyft car, we also went above and beyond to make sure that our vehicles provide the most virus-free ride out there.”

Electrek’s Take

*deep breath*

Alright, I’ve got mixed feelings here. On the one hand, this is pretty cool. The engineer in me is getting all kinds of excited right now for the tech and what this could mean in terms of improving the efficiency of shared electric scooter programs.

On the other hand, a flock of riderless scooters marching around like storm troopers is kind of nightmare fuel. Imagine coming around a corner and seeing these things barreling down on you. To be fair, they seem to travel fairly slowly when in ‘self-driving’ mode, but either way it’s going to startle the bejesus out of me the first few times they creep up on me.

Any way you slice it, this trial period is going to be fascinating. I think there is serious real-world potential for a solution like this. But the devil is in the details and I believe that the success or failure of self-driving scooters will depend on how well they can integrate themselves with people and cars in cities to become a benefit instead of a nuisance.

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Avatar for Micah Toll Micah Toll

Micah Toll is a personal electric vehicle enthusiast, battery nerd, and author of the Amazon #1 bestselling books DIY Lithium Batteries, DIY Solar Power, The Ultimate DIY Ebike Guide and The Electric Bike Manifesto.

The e-bikes that make up Micah’s current daily drivers are the $999 Lectric XP 2.0, the $1,095 Ride1Up Roadster V2, the $1,199 Rad Power Bikes RadMission, and the $3,299 Priority Current. But it’s a pretty evolving list these days.

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