IoT Gets Rolling: Smart Scooters and the New Connected Commute
2018 may have been the Year of the Dog by the Lunar calendar, but in the cities of coastal California it was without question the Year of the Electric Scooter. In the early months, scooters bearing snappy single-syllable brand names spread across the sidewalks from Santa Monica to San Francisco, seemingly overnight.
By the end of the year, industry front-runner Bird had expanded to over 100 cities across North America, Europe, and Asia, becoming the fastest startup to achieve a $2 billion valuation and setting the pace for an entirely new industry now made up of dozens of venture-backed competitors.
The scooter explosion is a huge story in urban transportation. And despite some well-documented bumps in deployment, the market demand and the benefits for growing urban populations seem quite real.
It’s also a huge story in the Internet of Things: without reliable wireless connectivity, this entire industry would vanish as quickly as it appeared.
Why Scooters? And Why Now?
Why Scooters is pretty easy to understand. Urban populations are growing faster than cities can rebuild decades-old infrastructure. According to transportation analyst INRIX, traffic congestion cost drivers in the U.S. over $300 billion in 2017, and those numbers are only expected to increase.
As city planners turn to transit-based solutions, scooters offer a convenient and environmentally friendly option for the “last mile” between transit points and an individual commuter’s intended destination. Thanks to their relatively light weight, low complexity, and compact form factor, it also costs a lot less to deploy and maintain a fleet of electric scooters in comparison with the larger and more cumbersome shared bicycles that rolled out in earlier urban pilot programs.
And scooters are easier for riders too. Less intimidating than shared bicycles and significantly more convenient, since in most cases a scooter can simply be rented where it’s found and left on the street on arrival rather than locked to a specific docking station.
Why Now? Three words: it’s the network. Because as much as scooters are a transportation story, they’re also an IoT story. Reliable wireless connectivity and GPS tracking make billing simple, minimize loss, and even enable an entirely new kind of employment. For every scooter casually discarded at a rider’s destination, there’s a gig-economy hunter ready to collect a bounty at the end of the day to pick it up and get it charged for the next days’ service. And when it comes to services that cover the kind of territory that a shared scooter might travel in a day, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth won’t do the job.
Powered by Cellular Connectivity
To continuously signal its location, each shared scooter needs to be able to maintain a steady data connection across a range of miles. Pairing with a phone over Bluetooth won’t work, since scooters would not be trackable between rides. And even the most capable Wi-Fi networks have a range of only a few hundred feet, and are easily interrupted by physical obstructions or even human bodies.
That’s where cellular comes in. As we know from working with customers in industries ranging from heavy construction to livestock management, there’s no more effective or affordable solution for reliably tracking location over distance.
And available global solutions like the Soracom SIM and eSIM make it easy to manufacture scooters in Asia and have them connect out of the box when activated for service in North America or Europe. For players with global ambitions, that’s a significant benefit, especially when you can also use services like Soracom Krypton to centrally manage devices and security over the air.
IoT Technology Drives Scooter Growth
Cellular connectivity is the most obvious IoT technology enabling the rapid deployment of scooter sharing services, but it’s far from the only one.
Even lesser-known players like Zagster, which operates scooter services on behalf of local municipalities, already operate fleets numbering in the thousands. As fleets grow, sensor systems designed to report maintenance needs, power consumption, hazardous operation, or service incidents will play a larger role in ensuring safety and efficient operation.
Similarly, secure networking services like Soracom Gate support network-wide software and security updates, simplifying maintenance and ensuring both efficient operation and compliance with local requirements.
At the same time, the ride data produced by shared scooter services will be fed into large Smart City initiatives, supporting the “big data” projects that help to improve transportation across metropolitan areas, even for people who may never use a scooter themselves.
A Bright Future for E-Scooters
The e-scooter industry, along with other ride sharing services, are here to stay. The demand for a low cost and short-distance transportation method will continue to rise as cities become more and more congested with traffic.
Cellular connectivity and IoT technology play a crucial role in supporting e-scooter rental services around the world, and driving future innovation in the industry. The ability to track and monitor these assets in real time at a low cost anywhere in the world provides significant value to e-scooter rental services.
Soracom provides over 10,000 businesses around the world with cellular connectivity, enabling them to power their IoT projects with little to no downtime.
Our pay-as-you-use pricing delivers a cost-effective connectivity solution that keeps your expenses low, allowing you to invest in other parts of your business.
Plus, we can support IoT operations in virtually any country, helping you power a global IoT system with powerful cellular connectivity.
Request a demo today to learn more about how Soracom cellular connectivity can power your IoT project.