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Two E-Scooter Innovations that Show the Industry is Maturing

Bolt becomes the first scooter company to integrate Google Maps into its app while Helbiz launches a hyper-accurate scooter positioning system to ensure proper parking. Why these could be bigger deals than ‘scooters that park themselves’.

Bolt, which integrates ride-hailing along with e-scooters into its mobility app, has become the first e-scooter brand to also integrate Google Maps into its app. However, this doesn’t just save users from the 5 second inconvenience of having to swipe out of the scooter app and into Google Maps manually. Even though it uses Google Maps, Bolt’s navigation system is built in-house to incorporate a different routing algorithm to allow it to avoid geofenced areas as well as areas with footpaths and busy roads, which helps keep riders on streets with bike lanes and away from dangerous, pedestrian-dense areas.

This also allows Bolt to nudge users towards parking in responsible areas, as they will be able to see the “reward parking zones” while still navigating with the vehicle, rather than afterwards, when a rider has already parked the scooter and only goes back into the app to end the ride. Making its scooters come standard with a wireless charging phone-mount (as Tier has already done) will also be a part of this rollout.  

Helbiz, an Italian-US ‘intra-urban mobility company’ that currently operates (surprise surprise) mostly in the US and Italy, announced a partnership with Fantasmo, a next-gen mapping company. The partnership will allow Helbiz to use Fantasmo’s Camera Positioning Standard (CPS) technology which claims to detect the exact location of e-scooters and validate parking within 8 inches (20.5 cm) or less with a phone camera alone. This follows a similar partnership between Tier and Fantasmo earlier this year. To unlock and park each e-scooter, riders will scan the QR code and surrounding area with their phone camera, which notifies Helbiz of the exact location of the device and whether or not it is parked within city-approved areas. This is demonstrated succinctly in this video published by Fantasmo.

Personal Comment:

A lot of headline grabbing announcements about innovations in the e-scooter industry (many of which we regularly cover) don’t seem to age very well. For example, scooters that can be remotely operated and parked, scooters with smart sensors that can measure air-quality, and scooters that reward their users for taking a selfie with a helmet – just to name a few. Few of these examples have been rolled out at scale, and even fewer have been able to actually address the main issues that, after 5 years, are still plaguing the sector. Namely, unsafe rider behavior and poor parking etiquette. That’s why these two announcements by Bolt and Helbiz, although definitely more low-profile than the others just mentioned above, can be seen as a promising sign that the industry might be maturing – by focusing on more down-to-earth approaches that will likely actually matter in the longer term.

Bolt’s in-app navigation will, at least in theory, allow it to route users on pathways that won’t bring them into conflict with lots of pedestrians (or city authorities) and keep them as much as possible on bike likes and smaller roads. Being able to display geo-fenced areas during navigation is also quite helpful, as this is something the rider would otherwise not be able to see if they were to switch to the native Google Maps app.

Fantasmo’s CPS system, if it is as capable as it claims to be, could be a really big deal. In the short term, this could assist many scooter companies operating in cities that only allow the vehicles to be parked in designated zones, like Paris, because GPS is not accurate enough to determine if the vehicle is actually properly inside the zone. In the longer term, as more cities become aware of this capability (and public frustration with badly parked scooters builds), a designated zone approach could appear a lot more attractive to cities – especially given that the scooter companies can no longer claim it’s not feasible for them to implement.  

My bet will be that these two innovations will become a lot more wide-spread and impactful on the industry down the line than remotely operated scooters that park themselves ever will be.

Written by Bobby Chen,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Elektromobilitet)