As cities have become increasingly overcrowded and environmental sustainability has entered the forefront of geopolitical discussion, people have started to consider greener, smaller methods of urban transport. This recent phenomenon, known as micromobility, is geared towards reducing the physical footprint in moving people (and things) over shorter distances.
Micromobility can be defined using multiple criteria: weight (less than 500 kg), passenger capacity, maximum speed or range, and others. Given its dynamic, changing form and rapid adoption around the globe, micromobility is often best understood as what it is not. In relation to existing infrastructure, micromobile vehicles are not fit to share highways or roads with full-size, higher-speed cars and trucks; and also not fit to operate on sidewalks or areas for pedestrians and select slow-moving vehicles.
Definition aside, it has tremendous potential to better connect people to public transportation, alleviate society’s dependence on cars, optimize an individual’s physical footprint, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And here in the Greater Boston area, thought leadership around green policy and developing infrastructure has created one of the country’s most flourishing environments for innovative micromobility startups.
Three startups based in and around Boston have been pioneers in the micromobility industry for years and have remained dedicated to transforming the way we as people move:
SomEV, a Somerville-based startup, was founded in 2019 by husband-and-wife duo Natasha George and Reece Daniel operating with one goal in mind: to bring electric methods of transportation to the people.
The company empowers customers to think of smaller electric vehicles as legitimate substitutes to cars. For the same reason you would never buy a car before a test ride, SomEV encourages customers to visit the 509 Somerville Ave store location and try out their fleet of vehicles including e-scooters, e-mopeds, and e-bikes.
The real differentiator for the company, though, lies in their unique Battery Leasing model which provides a cheaper, hassle-free method of transportation. For just $20/month per battery, SomEV is able to neutralize the industry’s largest barriers to entry - high upfront costs and accessibility. And if there are any existing complications or the battery dies, SomEV will replace it free of charge.
While developing the most consumer-friendly vehicle is important, reaching profitability and chronic underperformance of fleet deployment continue to be major obstacles for shared micromobility companies around the world.
That’s why two brothers, Joseph and Daniel Brennan, created Zoba, a Boston-based startup founded in 2016 determined to optimize micromobile transportation. Companies around the world can seamlessly integrate Zoba’s plug-and-play software into their own operational workflow to model and understand the demand for their scooters, mopeds, and bikes.
While demand can’t exactly be observed, it can certainly be forecast. Therefore, in removing any limiting factors of supply on consumer behavior, Zoba’s fleet distribution algorithm helps to predict where customers in any given city would take rides assuming the possibility of a vehicle on every street corner.
By understanding the general pattern of how people move (starting at home, moving to work or school, and then moving back to their homes), Zoba helps shared micromobility companies establish a locational strategy for their scooters, e-bikes, etc. This is not only to the customer’s benefit in terms of efficient transportation, it also allows the company to maximize user networks, better monitor battery life, and in the end, improve profitability.
And finally we have Cambridge-based micromobility up-and-comer Superpedestrian, founded in 2013 by Assaf Biderman, Associate Director of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab. The company’s foundation is built on technology Biderman co-invented and developed known as the Copenhagen Wheel, a self-contained rear wheel electric bicycle system equipped with an electric motor, battery, and suite of sensors working together to amplify a rider's pedal power.
Superpedestrian’s unique AI is integrated into the vehicle, constantly recognizing and correcting safety issues that arise while in use. City governments in the US, including Seattle, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego, as well as European cities like Madrid and Rome have already partnered with the company given its market-leading safety and reliability.
The company currently operates its scooter fleet under the name LINK, powered by a Vehicle Intelligent Safety (VIS) system. The next-gen operating system, codenamed “Briggs,” runs through 5 onboard microprocessors to actively detect hazards such as brake defaults, overheated batteries, and water damage in real-time. “Briggs” is set to be uploaded to the company’s global fleet of LINK scooters as of 2021.
Superpedestrian is also set to soon compete in a bidding process for partnerships in cities like New York with the largest micromobility companies in the world including Bird, Lime, and Voi.
As seen already in the world of technology, the advancement and rapidity of development in the micromobility industry have created troubles for policy makers in terms of regulation. As companies are able to aggregate more data and begin to measure the seemingly endless demand seen in the industry so far, don’t be surprised to see increases in the number and importance of micromobility startups. These electrifying (literally), lightweight, networked vehicles have the power to forever change the landscape of urban transportation and we in Boston are lucky to have a front row seat.
Connect with the Startup Community
Interested in learning more about the growing innovation community in Boston? Be sure to sign up to attend Startup Boston Week from September 20th - 24th, 2021. Register today to claim your free ticket to the conference!