The Segway-Ninebot Group announced three new scooters at an event in Beijing, one of which - the KickScooter T60 - uses artificial intelligence to autonomously drive to a docking station and improve the spread of scooters throughout urban environments.
The T60, which can be seen in the video below, is not like the e-scooters we have seen flood the streets of Berlin and other European cities this year. It has two wheels at the front, allowing it to balance without the help of a human rider. This three-wheeled design, combined with the use of AI, opens up several options for scooter-sharing platforms.
The T60 is capable of what the Segway-Ninebot Group are calling "semi-automatic rebalancing". In theory, it would allow companies such as Tier, Circ and Lime to control their fleet of e-scooters remotely from the cloud. Ninebot chairman and chief executive, Gao Lufeng, told Reuters, that this feature alone could radically improve the economics of scooter-sharing: "The pain point for scooter operators is to better maintain the scooters at a lower cost."
Currently, e-scooters are rebalanced and returned to docking stations by freelance workers (Lime calls them 'Juicers') in what is commonly referred to as the 'gig economy'. The sharing platform operators must pay these workers to collect, recharge and distribute the e-scooters, a cost the T60 could help to reduce.
The T60 also features Obstacle Avoidance Technology using a combination of ultrasonic and camera sensors. In the video, the scooter brakes when getting too close to the rear of a car and swerves around a delivery vehicle parked in the road. It is also capable of stopping at traffic lights and junctions.
Of course, all of this technology comes at a cost. The new T60 will be priced at around $1,400, around three times more than what operators pay for the units we see on our streets today. Segway-Ninebot's sales pitch here is that the higher price is offset by the reduced operating costs thanks to those AI features for rebalancing and docking.
Is this going to be legal?
It would appear likely that there are several legal roadblocks that Segway-Ninebot and e-scooter sharing operators are going to have to overcome before the T60 hits our streets, especially in Europe. In Germany, the route to legality for battery-powered scooters was a long and painful one, fueled by a fierce debate between groups representing car owners, cyclists and the e-scooter advocates themselves.
The new Segway-Ninebot T60 appears to be, at the very least, semi-autonomous with some human control via the cloud. Does the law classify the T60 as an autonomous vehicle? What are the legal implications of that, if so? These are questions that e-scooter companies are going to have face before we see the T60 available for public use.
For now, Segway-Ninebot says that it will start piloting its new products next quarter, with the aim of achieving commercialization in early 2020. The company, founded in 2015 by a deal between China's Ninebot and the US company that brought us the personal transporter, is the largest supplier for scooter-sharing companies worldwide, selling 1.6 million scooters in 2018.