Scooter aware: AI-endowed e-scooters hit San Jose streets
A row of Link e-scooters in downtown San Jose. File photo.

    Thinking of taking the electric scooter you rented for a fast ride? Want to do wheelies off the curbs? You could find yourself banned from using a Link scooter ever again.

    The latest company approved to rent e-scooters in San Jose deploys artificial intelligence to make sure riders follow the rules. Riders who zip over the city’s 12-mile-an-hour scooter speed limit will find their ride slowed down. Repeat offenders will be banned from using the app at all.

    “I swear, our scooters are smarter than me,” joked Meredith Starkman, a spokesperson for the Link e-scooters, a subsidiary of the Boston-area company Superpedestrian. “The scooter checks its own safety.”

    The city approved its third electric scooter or e-scooter brand late last month.

    With AI onboard, Link claims each scooter can sense how fast it’s traveling or if a unit is near an area where e-scooters are banned. Each scooter slows to a stop if an obstacle is detected or if a rider moves too fast. The company will soon introduce financial incentives, such as discounted rides, to encourage proper parking and riding.

    The city approved Link in part because of its research in AI technology. One of the city’s chief concerns with scooters was the need to slow them down quickly and detect sidewalks.

    “Link has been studying these problems for a long time,” said Andrea Arjona Amador, a transportation specialist with the city’s transportation department. “They have been working these issues before they even had a product to launch on the street. That’s what makes this company a little bit different.”

    Each scooter has five computers that constantly scan, repair and flag mechanical components for maintenance if needed. Its AI technology can also sense certain rider behavior, such as going too fast or off a curb.

    “Not only do we have a team of experienced people on the ground who know the technology of these things backward and forward, but the scooter itself checks its own safety,” Starkman said.


    Ride-share scooters and bicycles, as well as privately-owned bikes, have become an increasingly large piece of the transportation puzzle in San Jose. The city has increased efforts for what it calls sustainable transportation in recent months, releasing a survey to gauge residents’ interest in human-powered transportation such as biking. It established an office of Micro Mobility in 2018 to regulate e-scooters and bikes, along with an ordinance to manage such transportation. It devised a permit process in 2019, touted by the city’s transportation department to be one of the safest in the country.

    “We’ve learned quite a lot about what are the safety standards we want to see in a scooter company,” said Arjona Amador.

    Superpedestrian is currently partnering with BART to deploy scooters on their property and is looking to partner with the Valley Transportation Authority in the future to make it easier for riders to link to the system’s bus and light rail.

    “Superpedestrian has only entered cities where we have a relationship and permission from city officials,” Starkman said. “We never wanted to be disruptors. We always wanted to be collaborators.”

    The company said it is committed to hiring local, full-time workers in each of its markets. It currently has 10 workers on staff. It does not hire gig workers—a point of contention in the past.

    The company launched 400 scooters, mostly near San Jose State University. They are also around the Alameda and in East San Jose, according to Starkman.

    Riders will be charged $1 to unlock a scooter, plus $0.36 per minute, with another program that allows people who receive government aid to get discounted rides.

    In addition to San Jose, Link scooters can be found in 12 other cities across the country.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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