Apparently, the electric scooter users in big cities can’t be trusted to stay off the sidewalks. Now one of the biggest micro-mobility companies is joining other rentable bike providers in tracking whether its users start riding dirty.
TechCrunch reported that Lime revealed its plans on Wednesday to install cameras and computer vision technology in its scooters to determine if a user is riding up on the sidewalk. The pilot project is slated for 400 scooters both San Francisco and Chicago this August, and the cities will get to decide whether the bikes will simply alert riders of their transgressions and/or automatically slow down their bikes.
The new feature was revealed at a Lime event in Paris Wednesday. Neutron Holdings, which operates under the name Lime, is based in San Francisco and has been the subject of heavy scrutiny over users taking joyrides up on pedestrian-laden sidewalks. San Fran municipal authorities effectively ordered Lime and other companies to come up with solutions to the issue earlier this year. This new system will be retrofitted as an individual, waterproof unit attached to the neck of these scooters, according to TechCrunch. A second version of the tech will be fully integrated into the scooter’s internals.
It’s a much more subtle rider control feature than what the company has previously experimented with. Back in 2018, Lime tested a feature that would scream and threaten to call the police if it was touched without first being unlocked.
Multiple other city micro-mobility companies are already using computer vision tech on their devices, including some of Lime’s biggest competitors like Bird and the Swedish-owned Voi. Many of these micro-mobility companies scaled back during the pandemic, according to the Washington Post. Some, like Bird, have suffered in the post-pandemic tech slump. With several of these electric scooter companies piloting their tech in new cities like New York, they’re clearly trying to break away from the perception that they allow speeding maniacs to zip around traffic and pedestrians.
Lime company President Joe Kraus told TechCrunch this was part of a long-term investment in computer vision technology. This “advanced rider assistance system” needs to rely on GPS signaling to help determine where sidewalks are. That GPS signaling might also allow the bikes to detect parking violations.
But of course, installing more advanced computer vision systems into shared bikes can result in abuse, especially of the data variety. Back in 2020, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union jointly sued the city of Los Angeles for requiring these bike companies to fork over real time travel data to the city’s department of transportation. Of course, officials firmly denied they were using that data for anything nefarious.
And Kraus isn’t being coy about his company’s plans to share data with officials. He said they would like to share data with cities about which locations more riders are hopping up on sidewalks or even where there’s potholes.
The company is also apparently trying to stop drunk users from operating its scooters as well. The company told reporters they are testing out a new feature in the Lime app that will ask users after a certain time of night to play a short game. Those who fail to maneuver the digital scooter correctly will be locked out of accessing the IRL version.