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No rider, no problem: New remote-controlled scooters head for Boise in first-in-the-world test

Riderless, remote-controlled scooters will soon hit the streets of Boise.

Scooter company Spin wants to put a new… spin… on electric scooters. And the rollout will start right here.

The scooter company, owned by Ford Motor Company, saw a flurry of write-ups from the national tech media of a pilot project to put 300 new scooters in Boise which can operate remotely via remote control. Spin did not alert the local media to the pilot.

‘Spin Valet’ in Boise

The program, called Spin Valet, will use a fleet of new three-wheeled scooters, equipped with cameras on the front and back. The scooters, from Chinese company Segway, will connect to a team in Mexico City who can operate the scooters via remote control, according to The Verge.

At first, the remote technology will allow Spin to adjust and reposition scooters after a rider parks them. While riders will control the scooters when a person is on board, after the device gets parked, the remote control can kick in – with the scooters moving out of the way of pedestrians, off ADA ramps, or out of the way of traffic.

Spin says the adjustments can happen “within seconds,” and the scooters will move no faster than three miles per hour in remote mode.

Simply put, you will soon see riderless scooters in Downtown Boise. The trial will start this spring.

The scooters will also include upgraded braking and with three wheels will be “more stable,” according to information on the company’s website.

Beam you up, scooter

The company says the next step will allow for ‘scooter hailing.’ A user could push a button on the Spin app, and the device would then come to them – remotely. The next phase will also allow the scooters to return to a charging hub when the battery gets low.

“There has been a lot of fanfare around the potential of remote-controlled e-scooters, but this partnership marks a turning point in tangible operational plans to bring them to city streets,” Spin’s Ben Bear said in a statement. “In addition to providing reliability to consumers and more order to city streets, this could significantly improve unit economics, help reduce carbon emissions and the operational work required to maintain and reposition fleets.”

Spin was the third company to roll out dockless scooters in the Boise area, after Bird and Lime. As a group, the scooters caused scores of issues in the city, becoming an area of significant city focus throughout 2019. The City of Meridian even banned the scooters for a time.

A demo test was held for city officials recently, according to two sources familiar. We reached out to city officials and will update with more information as it becomes available.

Boise first, then beyond

The scooters will use technology from a company called Tortoise for the remote control capability. After the Boise trial, it could expand across North America and Europe.

“We’re focused on making Boise wildly successful and I think if that happens, then the numbers kind of take care of themselves,” Shevelenko told tech publication TechCrunch. “If this Spin scooter gets even 25% more rentals per day than their standard fleet, they’re going to shift their fleet as quickly as possible.”

The Boise area hosted a number of trials of new technology over the years. The now-ubiquitous Caller ID technology saw some of its first trials in Boise in 1991. Albertsons trialed a ‘scan as you go’ technology in stores in the 2000s. More recently, the city also saw one of the first rollouts of 5G cellular technology.

Don Day - BoiseDev editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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