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Micromobility is changing the face of urban transport
Even before Covid-19, consumers and cities valued the benefits of lightweight, low-speed personal vehicles. But the pandemic underscored the importance of safe, flexible, and sustainable travel options. Now wireless-enhanced personal transport solutions are riding their way into the mainstream transport picture, creating new business opportunities in the process.
That’s because technology-driven micromobility (think shared bicycles plus electric bikes ('eBikes') and electric scooters (‘eScooters’)) makes it faster, cheaper, healthier and more convenient to travel the ‘last mile’ of a journey and beyond. Micromobility is also popular for people keen to avoid public transport and traffic congestion while reducing their carbon footprint – and not only for short distances.
Wheels in motion
Flexible, cost-effective and eco-friendly alternatives to commuting by car or public transport are belatedly taking off in urban areas. In the 12 months leading up to July 2021, eBike sales grew by a remarkable 240 percent compared to the previous year, says market research firm NPD Group. And a global survey by McKinsey & Company shows the percentage of users interested in regularly using a shared mobility solution increased by 12 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels.
Growth in this sector covers the full gamut of services. In 2022 the Micromobility Landscape report—a snapshot of the most prominent micromobility solutions—included more than 1,100 organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. In 2019, that number was just 139.
And the money is only trending in one direction. The global micromobility market is expected to grow from $89.4 billion in 2022 to $210.5 billion by 2030 at a CAGR of 13 percent during the forecast period, according to a report by Market Research Future.
Supporting the revolution
Government support is playing its part in this micromobility revolution. That’s perhaps not surprising, given the sustainability benefits of the transport solution. Replacing car rides with eScooters can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 61 percent, increasing the lifespan of eScooters can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 33 percent, and reducing congestion in cities can reduce CO2 emissions by 6 percent, according to the International Transport Forum.
To offer a greener method of transport, countries have started changing their laws and regulations to encourage different forms of micromobility – for example, shared eScooters on public land in the U.K. And a growing list of European cities, such as Rome, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Paris, are adopting micromobility solutions and investing in micromobility infrastructure like new cycling lanes for bikes and eScooters.
In the U.S., the ‘Build Back Better’ bill (pending legislation) could provide a nationwide tax credit of up to $900 for eligible eBike purchases by private consumers. Advocates suggest eBikes, as a low-carbon transportation solution, will be crucial to the country’s efforts to fight climate change. (According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, transportation accounted for 29 percent of the country’s greenhouse emissions in 2019.)
Despite the real and anticipated growth, today's micromobility operators are still facing several roadblocks. The global rollout of infrastructure and systems to make micromobility more ubiquitous has been gradual at best. That’s stalled the pace of innovation. Urban cluttering, diminishing vehicle lifespan, and the potential for theft and vandalism of micromobility vehicles are further challenges to consider. Another concern is safety and comfort, as users of micromobility vehicles are often unprotected from other traffic and the elements.
But there are solutions to these problems. One research report by Star Global, which analyzed micromobility service providers across North America, Europe, and APAC, found the companies standing out from the pack are using tech to implement new features around safety, ease of use, and loyalty.
This means built-in sensors, machine learning (ML), cameras, voice control and intelligent dashboards to verify user identity, detect improper use, prevent accidents and more. Bolt’s eScooter, for example, employs sensors to detect accidents, falls, sharp braking and unsafe riding patterns, triggering audio and visual warnings for riders and notifying the operation team.
Micromobility innovators are also taking advantage of location services to track vehicles and implement advanced features like detecting when users illegally ride on a sidewalk, anticipating danger and providing collision warnings, stopping the ride abruptly if needed and creating zones in which specific safety rules are enforced.
Boosted by low-power wireless connectivity
Integrating low-power wireless connectivity boosts these features and benefits, and potentially various others. By linking shared eBikes and eScooters to smartphones, for example, riders can use associated apps to not only locate and unlock the nearest machine (and in some cases, the integrated helmet via a Bluetooth LE-enabled smart helmet lock), but also take advantage of unique features such as beginner/safe modes and the ability to check estimated range times to help plan journeys.
One Nordic customer, a major international eBike maker, is using the nRF52840 SoC for Bluetooth LE (especially valuable due to its smartphone interoperability) and the nRF9160 SiP for cellular IoT wireless connectivity between its eBikes and the cloud, enabling vehicle location tracking among other features.
- Read more: Cellular IoT closes the gap between end-devices and the cloud
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European micromobility provider Voi is using cellular IoT connectivity powered by global telco Ericsson to bring new features and services that increase eBike and eScooter motor performance by 35 percent and increase the vehicle’s lifespan to five years. This is achieved by leveraging onboard and remote diagnostics to prioritize and predict the need for maintenance and repairs.
A joint study between Ericsson and Voi revealed that cellular IoT enables a micromobility operator to create and capture an annual value of $460,000 in a single city, using one million inhabitants and a fleet of 3,500 eScooters as a baseline.
The path ahead
Micromobility is thriving and shared service providers are expanding their fleets. However, the micromobility industry leaders that will ultimately win the global race for market share are likely to be the ones that continue to evolve and innovate. Armed with advanced connected tech, pioneering global micromobility providers will see their products speed ahead.