Zac Estrada is a reporter covering transportation, technology and policy. A former reporter for The Verge and Jalopnik, his work has also appeared in Automobile Magazine, Autoweek, Pacific Standard, Boston.com and BLAC Detroit. A native of Southern California, he is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. You can find him on Twitter at @zacestrada.
While the electric scooter market might appear flooded based on how many of the vehicles are scattered along sidewalks in major U.S. cities, there is yet another company on the block trying to make the case for alternative mobility solutions across the country, including here in Los Angeles.
Founded in Cambridge, Mass., in 2013, transportation robotics startup Superpedestrian launched its LINK e-scooter network in its hometown (which is also home to Harvard and MIT) in early 2020—just as the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on demand for shared services like ride-sharing, bike-sharing and, of course, e-scooters.
That may have helped LINK gain a footing in L.A. and other locales, however, as Superpedestrian has now expanded the service to nearly 50 cities around the world.
“At the beginning of the pandemic there were a lot of people who went out and bought their own cars because they thought it would be a safer way to get around,” Superpedestrian policy and business development manager Sharon Zhang told dot.LA. “But now they’re seeing how much it costs to own a car.”
Superpedestrian’s LINK scooters arrived in L.A. in August 2021 through a program with the city’s Department of Transportation. There are currently about 3,500 of the company’s electric scooters dotted around the city—from Downtown to the San Fernando Valley and in neighborhoods like Koreatown, Eagle Rock and Highland Park—and LINK plans to ramp up to 5,000 scooters on city streets this year. Superpedestrian has also parked some of the scooters around USC and UCLA, in the hopes of building ridership among college students.
Superpedestrian deployed its first vehicles in neighborhoods that it identified as either popular for other e-scooter companies, or as having less-than-adequate bus or light-rail service and ripe for micromobility solutions. While LINK initially appealed to recreational riders, it’s increasingly being used by riders to commute to work and school or to connect with other transportation options, according to Zhang. LINK says the average scooter ride in the city is 1.4 miles and less than 15 minutes long. (Rides cost $1 to unlock the scooter, plus 39 cents per minute.) So far, the company has attracted more than 400,000 rides in L.A. covering over 540,000 miles.
Of course, LINK has to compete in a crowded e-scooter market that has exploded in popularity since the mid-2010s. The L.A. area is dominated by Santa Monica-based Bird, which went public through an SPAC deal last year, and San Francisco-based Lime. Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft have also stepped into the market—though Ford-backed Spin announced this month that it was “beginning to exit nearly all open permit markets globally” in a bid for profitability. There are also various bike-sharing services to account for, like the one run through L.A.’s Metro system.
“We’ve been asked in other markets why we’d want to be there when there were 6 or 7 other [e-scooter] companies,” Zhang said.
The ace up LINK’s sleeve, she noted, is that Superpedestrian designed and manufactured its own scooters, rather than outsourcing to a third-party company as some of its competitors do. Superpedestrian engineered the LINK scooters to be larger and heavier than some competing models; that makes them more stable on pothole-stricken streets and allows for a larger battery than other scooters, with an estimated 61-mile range in typical conditions.
Zhang said the reinforced chassis on the scooters not only provides stability but also lowers the costs of deploying them. Superpedestrian uses its own staff to charge and service the scooters—rather than employing contract or gig workers—at two L.A.-area facilities. That staff, part of a roughly 55-person team that the company employs in the area, can swap out different parts that might be damaged, rather than scrapping the whole scooter. And while the scooters are expected to last for several years on the streets, their batteries are expected to outlive other hardware pieces and can be reused with new scooters.
Vandalism is still the largest threat to LINK’s scooter fleet. Superpedestrian said they’ve received reports of the vehicles being recovered from across state lines and, in some cases, after being thrown into water; in the latter instance, some of the scooters were able to dry out and still function.
Superpedestrian also leans on its “vehicle intelligence” technology to run more than 1,000 system checks on individual scooters, which can inform technicians whether there’s a low charge level or power delivery and braking problems. Its system can also determine if a scooter is left in an unsafe location—such as blocking a sidewalk or access point—or if it’s entering an area where e-scooters are banned, in which case it will flash lights on its handlebars before eventually coming to a stop.
Later this year, Superpedestrian plans to incorporate a pedestrian defense system, which it says can determine if riders are on the sidewalk when they shouldn’t be or violating other traffic laws based on regulations. The scooters, which can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, are regulated to a 15-mile-per-hour maximum, and are slowed even more when the scooter’s sensors detect it is entering a no-ride zone, such as Dodger Stadium.
Zhang said Superpedestrian is encouraged by the inroads LINK has made in L.A. and is looking to expand to other markets. In California, LINK also operates in San Diego and Bay Area cities including Oakland and San Jose.
But with e-scooters having rubbed many local communities the wrong way, Zhang added that LINK and other micromobility operators need more buy-in from stakeholders beyond city government officials. That includes not just city councils and local transportation departments, but also neighborhood councils and colleges and universities.
“Our goal is to continue to expand,” Zhang said. “L.A. is an open market for e-scooter permits, though—and the whole area can be like swiss cheese in terms of regulations.”
- Unagi E-Scooter Subscriptions Are Expanding in Los Angeles - dot.LA ›
- Escooter Startup Superpedestrian Takes to LA Streets - dot.LA ›
Residents of Santa Monica will be able to have their food delivered by robotaxi next year.
Boston-based advanced driverless company Motional announced Thursday it would collaborate with Uber Technologies on a program to deliver meal kits to customers using a fleet of modified autonomous-capable Hyundai cars. Motional is also planning to launch its robotaxi service in Las Vegas sometime in 2022.
When the delivery service first rolls out though, the tech won’t work with any Santa Monica restaurant within a given delivery radius. Rather, customers who want food delivered by a robotaxi will go through the Uber app, where they will find an option to select a Motional vehicle with a curated selection of meal kits.
A Motional spokesperson told dot.LA it would announce more details of the contents of the kits that are also part of the Uber partnership.
While the company called the program “an expansion into driverless delivery,” Motional confirmed to dot.LA it does not have a permit with the California Department of Motor Vehicles to operate vehicles on public roads without a driver. As a result, all of their delivery robotaxis will have a human operator inside.
In a post on the Motional website on Thursday, President and CEO Karl Iagnemma cited the rapid growth of delivery services — roughly doubling since the start of the Covid-19 spread and pandemic-instigated shutdowns in March 2020 — as the company’s reason for getting into the space. Iagnemma predicts the driverless food delivery service market to exceed $115 billion by 2030.
The robotaxi announcement is Motional’s latest announcement about its Santa Monica hub. In August, the company announced it would significantly expand its Santa Monica operations after moving to a larger space to accommodate staff and the anticipation of vehicle testing on public roads. The company said then there would be more than 100 employees at the Santa Monica location by the end of 2021.
Founded in 2020, the young company has been making significant moves apart from expanding staff and testing. Hyundai, which has its American operations in Fountain Valley, will play a significant role in testing vehicles for future autonomous or driverless testing and implementation for ride-hailing services.
It sealed the deal with the automaker last March when it was announced Hyundai’s all-electric Ioniq 5 small SUVs would be fitted with the tech company’s light detection and ranging (LiDAR) and other equipment necessary for detecting road objects.
While Motional has been testing the Ioniq 5 in other markets, the Santa Monica Uber program will be the first time it will be deployed for public use, ahead of a fully driverless ride-hailing pilot program in Las Vegas set to start in 2022.
The $40,925 Ioniq 5 also just went on sale to the U.S. public; the first vehicle was delivered to an L.A. resident on Wednesday.
- L.A. Caps Grubhub, Postmates, Delivery Apps Charges At 15% - dot ... ›
- As Food Delivery Apps Struggle, Playa Vista-Based ChowNow ... ›
- El Pollo Loco Launches a Backyard Drone Delivery Program - dot.LA ›
- Motional Expands Its Autonomous Vehicle Operations in LA - dot.LA ›