Domino’s, Nuro to begin autonomous pizza deliveries in Houston

Starting this week, some Domino’s customers in Houston can have a pizza delivered without ever interacting with a human.

The pizza delivery giant said Monday it has partnered with autonomous delivery vehicle startup Nuro to allow select customers to have their pizzas dropped at their door via Nuro’s R2 robot.

“There is still so much for our brand to learn about the autonomous delivery space,” Dennis Maloney, Domino’s senior vice president and chief innovation officer said in a statement. “This program will allow us to better understand how customers respond to the deliveries, how they interact with the robot and how it affects store operations.”

On certain days and times, customers ordering from the Woodland Heights store on the Domino’s website can request R2, which uses radar, 360-degree cameras and thermal imaging to direct its movement. They’ll get texts to let them know where the robot is and what PIN they’ll need to access their pizza via the bot’s touchscreen.

Over the course of the pandemic, the contactless, autonomous food delivery industry has accelerated quickly, and Nuro is currently poised to become a leader in this space.

“Nuro’s mission is to better everyday life through robotics,” Dave Ferguson, Nuro co-founder and president, said in a statement. “We’re excited to introduce our autonomous delivery bots to a select set of Domino’s customers in Houston. We can’t wait to see what they think.”

This is the first time meals will be delivered by an electric, self-driving, occupant-less vehicle on the roads in Houston. Woodland Heights, which is mainly residential, is one of the oldest historic neighborhoods in Houston, flanked by the I-45 and I-10 highways. The Domino’s there is right on Houston Avenue, a main thoroughfare, making this a substantially challenging space in which to pilot this technology.

Nuro originally announced the Domino’s partnership and began testing in Houston in 2019. That same year, the company began deploying its vehicles to transport Kroger groceries in Houston and Phoenix. At the end of 2020, it was approved to begin testing on public roads in California, delivering goods from partners like Walmart and CVS. Nuro is the first company to be granted regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation for a self-driving vehicle exemption.

Domino’s appears to be Nuro’s first large foray into restaurant delivery, but it certainly won’t be the last. The company just announced its $500 million Series C round, funded in part by Chipotle. Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota’s innovation-focused subsidiary Woven Planet, also invested, kicking off the fund’s portfolio.

Job postings hint at winners of NYC and London e-scooter pilots

A batch of job listings along with some Twitter whisperings suggests that scooter companies such as Lime and Superpedestrian are gearing up to operate in London and New York City — two of the last remaining frontiers of shared scooter services.

A review of job listings, company websites and LinkedIn shows that Lime and Dott are preparing to launch in London, while Lime, Superpedestrian and maybe even Spin are getting ready for New York. While the job posts don’t provide definitive proof that these companies have been awarded these coveted permits, it does identify which companies believe they will win.

London’s Department for Transport and the NYC City Council approved their respective e-scooter pilots in the summer of 2020 as city dwellers sought socially-distanced modes of travel. London’s pilot should have begun at the start of 2021, and NYC’s was originally meant to launch by March 1, but neither city has even named which companies will be awarded concessions yet. Sources familiar with the dealings say London is holding up the announcement until after the mayoral race on May 6. The NYC Department of Transportation declined to comment.

Dott, Tier and Lime for London?

There has been speculation that Dott, Lime and maybe Tier will be sharing the streets of London once the pilot takes off. Information on Dott’s and Lime’s websites, LinkedIn profiles and hiring pages show that they’re hiring for positions in the city. Sources in the industry told TechCrunch that Tier had a London-focused job posting listed on its page that has since been taken down.

Dott, which doesn’t already appear to have a footprint in the United Kingdom, is hiring a UK-based operations manager to “set up operations from scratch within the U.K.” They’re also hiring a public policy manager to be the “voice for the Dott U.K. market.”

On Dott’s website, a map showing service areas shows a little yellow flag over London. Clicking on the flag leads to a 404 “page not found” error page. 

Lime, a mobility company that appears to be swiftly taking over the world, already has a presence in London in the form of its Jump e-bikes, which made an appearance last summer. New job postings on LinkedIn suggests they’re preparing to expand. 

The company’s LinkedIn page reveals a call for a London-based general manager whose responsibilities include building and implementing “the operational infrastructure to ensure market growth in the United Kingdom.” That gig was posted a week ago and they’re actively recruiting for it on LinkedIn. 

About a month ago, Lime also posted a London-based operations manager role, for which it appears to still be recruiting. 

Voi might also still be in the running based on its job postings on LinkedIn. On Thursday, the company added a call for an ambassador supervisor for a six-month position in London. It seems to be an on-the-ground sort of role, and the temporary nature of it could have something to do with London’s year-long pilot. It’s also possible the company is just looking for someone in a central city to manage the other U.K. cities where Voi operates.   

Bird has already been in London’s Olympic Park since the summer, and it actively lobbied for a change in London’s legislation around scooters riding on roads or pavements. This presence could explain why Bird’s operating map highlights London, but to make matters more confusing, the company is hiring an operations associate to ostensibly handle London city operations and general U.K. operations. 

New York might award Lime, Superpedestrian and others

Image Credits: Lime

Lime is no stranger to NYC. Its e-bikes have historically had a presence in the Rockaways, Queens. Now it has two job postings up — for a mechanic and an operations specialist — that specifically mention management, maintenance, deployment and retrieval of Lime’s e-scooters. 

Superpedestrian, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has four new job posts up between its website and LinkedIn. On the site, there’s a call for a chief of staff who is ideally based in NYC to support the CEO. Also listed is a general manager position; duties include “being responsible for the growth and success of our scooter share in New York and New Jersey.”

On LinkedIn, Superpedestrian has posted two positions based in NYC. The first, posted a week ago, is an operations associate that will handle things like scooter charging, safety inspections, deployment of scooters and scooter repair and assembly. The second is a scooter mechanic, posted a month ago, but to be fair the post does include the caveat: “If we are awarded the privilege of operating in NYC…”

Spin also posted an operations lead based in New York about a week ago. The employee hired for the position will be tasked with “Spin’s day-to-day operations, managing drivers and mechanics and building a highly efficient operations team.” It’s not precisely indicative of the Ford-owned company winning NYC, but the job does appear to be involved with on-the-ground tasks. The post also hints that the new hire would be leading the build-out and deployment of Spin’s vehicles. 

With a huge presence in Europe but absolutely none in the United States as of yet, Voi has been hoping NYC would be its entry into the country. The company hasn’t posted any NYC-specific job ads, but its job board features a locations dropdown menu which includes NYC.

Finally, Bird is adding to the mess of guesses with two LinkedIn job posts based in New York. The general manager position, posted four weeks ago but still actively recruiting, appears to require someone to be pretty locally involved. The operations associate role, posted on Wednesday, is a bit more vague about whether the new hire would be on the ground in NYC or not. 

Uber entices drivers back post-pandemic with $250 million stimulus

Despite the classification of ride-hail drivers as “essential workers” during the early days of the pandemic, last April Uber’s business dropped by 80%. Drivers decided they’d rather not risk contracting or spreading COVID-19 for the measly revenue provided by the few rides per day they were getting, so when the federal CARES Act extended the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to gig workers, many Uber drivers decided to hang up their keys. 

With more than a quarter of the U.S. population already vaccinated, Uber is now in a sticky situation wherein there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available. The ride-hailing giant not only wants drivers to know that there’s business to be had once again, but they also want to sweeten the deal with incentives. 

On Wednesday, the company announced the launch of a $250 million driver stimulus to welcome drivers back into the fold and recruit new ones as the pandemic begins to ease in the U.S. Both returning drivers and new drivers will be receiving bonuses over the coming months, according to an Uber spokesperson.  

“In 2020, many drivers stopped driving because they couldn’t count on getting enough trips to make it worth their time,” reads the blog post announcing the stimulus. “In 2021, there are more riders requesting trips than there are drivers available to give them — making it a great time to be a driver.”

Due to high rider demand and low supply of drivers, the current median hourly rate for cities like Philadelphia, Austin, Chicago, Miami and Phoenix is $26.66, which is 25% to 75% higher than they were in March of last year. Uber wants drivers to take advantage of the higher earnings now because “this is likely a temporary situation.” Meaning as the country recovers and more gig workers get back behind the wheel, earnings will likely decrease from their current levels. 

The stimulus money will go on top of those hourly rates, a spokesperson told TechCrunch. The incentive structure will be based on individual activity, as well as location. For example, in Austin, drivers are guaranteed $1,100 if they complete 115 trips. In Phoenix, drivers can earn an extra $1,775 for 200 trips. 

The money will also go toward guaranteed minimum pay and on-boarding for new Uber drivers, and the full $250 million pool is coming directly from Uber’s pockets. The company’s shares declined as much as 3.6% during trading on Wednesday. 

Uber is also aiming to help streamline the process of getting drivers vaccinated with an in-app booking portal as part of its partnership with Walgreens.

Tim Cook drops hints about autonomous tech and the Apple car

Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped a few hints in an interview released Monday about the direction of the much-anticipated Apple car, including that autonomous vehicle technology will likely be a key feature.

“The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view,” Cook told Kara Swisher in an interview on the “Sway” podcast. “If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does.”

Cook was careful not to reveal too much, declining to answer Swisher’s question outright if Apple is planning to produce a car itself or the tech within the car. What clues he did drop, suggests Project Titan is working on something in the middle.

“We love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs,” said Cook. “And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”

To which Swisher responded: “I’m going to go with car for that, if you don’t mind. I’m just going to jump to car.”

We are, too.

Many people in the micromobility industry like to say that e-scooters are basically iPhones on wheels, but it’s more likely that the Apple car will actually be the iPhone on wheels. Apple is generally known for owning all of its hardware and software, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Apple engineers working closely with a manufacturer to produce an Apple car, with the potential to one day cut out the middle man and become the manufacturer.

The so-called Project Titan appeared at risk of failing before a car was ever seen by the public with mass layoffs in 2019. However, more recent reports suggest that the project is alive and well with plans to make a self-driving electric passenger vehicle by 2024.

Earlier this year, CNBC reported that Apple was close to finalizing a deal with Hyundai-Kia to build an Apple-branded self-driving car at the Kia assembly plant in West Point, Georgia. Sources familiar with Apple’s interest in Hyundai say the company wants to work with an automaker that will let Apple hold the reins on the software and hardware that will go into the car.

The two companies never reached a deal and talks fell apart in February, according to multiple reports. That hasn’t stopped the flow of rumors and reports about Apple and its plans, which have previously been linked to other suppliers, automakers such as Nissan and even startups.

It’s still unclear what the Apple car will look like, but as a passenger vehicle, rather than a robotaxi or delivery vehicle, it will be going up against the likes of Tesla.

“I’ve never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he’s built,” said Cook. “I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them.”

Project Titan is being led by Doug Field, who was formerly senior vice president of engineering at Tesla and one of the key players behind the Model 3 launch.

Optimus Ride partners with Polaris to commercialize electric autonomous vehicles

Autonomous, electric mobility service provider Optimus Ride announced a partnership with powersports vehicle manufacturer Polaris to bring fully autonomous GEM electric vehicles to market. The two will introduce a new line of Polaris GEM low-speed vehicles that will be engineered to fully integrate Optimus Ride’s autonomous software and hardware suite.

The microtransit vehicles are expected to come to market during the second half of 2023, when they’ll be deployed in geofenced, localized environments, such as corporate and academic campuses and mixed-use developments.

The Polaris GEMs aren’t the only electric autonomous vehicles on the roads. Big companies like Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber, Ford, Motional and GM subsidiary Cruise are all investing in autonomous vehicles to be used for either delivery or ride-hailing services on city streets. But Optimus Ride CEO Sean Harrington sees a market advantage in starting in a localized, geofenced environment, then, once the tech is safe and developed, expand it outward.

“Microtransit is a great starting point for autonomy and it will be the place where AVs will start to penetrate,” Harrington told TechCrunch. “The concentration of short trips in a low-speed, localized environment means you can most rapidly deploy autonomous mobility solutions and deliver an exceptional experience. Whereas with a robotaxi, the technology challenge is unbounded.”

Optimus Ride has already deployed about 30 Polaris GEM vehicles, which have been retrofitted with Optimus Ride autonomous technology, for commercial ride-hailing operations in Brooklyn, Boston, California, Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia, or as part of testing. There’s a testing site near its headquarters at the Boston Seaport, and there’s a closed track environment, called Union Point, in South Weymouth, Massachusetts.

In the near future, they’ll be continuing to expand current partnerships, like with real estate giant Brookfield Properties in Washington, D.C., as well as into new markets. Harrington specifically hinted at academic campuses as a next step.

Polaris GEMs are deployed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to transfer workers on a fixed microtransit route. Image Credits: Optimus Ride

The GEMs provide visitors, residents and workers a combination of fixed route and on-demand mobility around the sites and in some cases out to regional transit hubs and neighboring areas.

“In D.C., at our Brookfield campus, we have the Opti Ride app that allows users to schedule rides and reserve a seat on the shuttle,” said Harrington. “Then in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, for example, we run on a fixed schedule and a fixed route.”

The microtransit vehicles, which drive at speeds less than 25 miles per hour, can currently seat four passengers, with a safety operator in the front row. Harrington says once they remove the steering wheel and brake pedals with the next generation of GEMs, the vehicles will accommodate six passengers.

Both the current set of GEMs and the next generation operate at Level 4 autonomy, which means they can operate without the need of a human operator. Despite the constraints of the geofenced environment, Harrington says the vehicles can fully interact with their environments.

“It has a complete perception stack leveraging lidar and computer vision, as well as situational awareness, classifying and tracking objects, full planning and motion control algorithms that allow the vehicle to safely operate within a given environment,” said Harrington. “The benefit of the geofence is that we can develop HD maps for those locations and be deterministic about everything we expect to see from a traffic standpoint. Being constrained in a specific environment means high safety and performance levels quickly, rather than an unbounded vehicle expected to operate in all conditions, anywhere.”

Hyundai IONIQ 5 will be Motional and Lyft’s first robotaxi

Motional will integrate its driverless technology into Hyundai’s new all-electric SUV to create the company’s first robotaxi. At the start of 2023, customers in certain markets will be able to book the fully electric, fully autonomous taxi through the Lyft app.

The Hyundai IONIQ 5, which was revealed in February with a consumer release date expected later this year, will be fully integrated with Motional’s driverless system. The vehicles will be equipped with the hardware and software needed for Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, including LiDAR, radar and cameras to provide the vehicle’s sensing system with 360 degrees of vision, and the ability to see up to 300 meters away. This level of driverless technology means a human will not be required to take over driving.

The interior living space will be similar to the consumer model, but additionally equipped with features needed for robotaxi operation, according to a Motional spokesperson. Motional did not reveal whether or not the vehicle would still have a steering wheel, and images of the robotaxi aren’t yet available.

Motional’s IONIQ 5 robotaxis have already begun testing on public roads and closed courses, and they’ll be put through more months of testing and real-world experience before being deployed on Lyft’s platform. The company says it’ll complete testing only once it’s confident that the taxis are safer than a human driver.

Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai $4 billion joint venture aimed at commercializing driverless cars, announced its partnership with Lyft in December, signaling the ride-hailing company’s primary involvement in Motional’s plans. The company recently announced that it began testing its driverless tech on public roads in Las Vegas. Hyundai’s IONIQ 5 is Motional’s second platform to go driverless on public roads.

ABB and AWS team up to create an EV fleet management platform

Swiss automation and technology company ABB has announced a collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create a cloud-based EV fleet management platform that it hopes will hasten the electrification of fleets. The platform, which the company says will help operators maintain business continuity as they switch to electric, will roll out in the second half of 2021.

This announcement comes after a wave of major delivery companies pledged to electrify their fleets. Amazon already has a number of Rivian-sourced electric delivery vans on the streets of California and plans to have 10,000 more operational by this year; UPS ordered 10,000 electric vans from Arrival for its fleet; 20% of DHL’s fleet is already electric; and FedEx plans to electrify its entire fleet by 2040. A 2020 McKinsey report predicted commercial and passenger fleets in the U.S. could include as many as eight million EVs by 2030, compared with fewer than 5,000 in 2018. That’s about 10 to 15% of all fleet vehicles.

“We want to make EV adoption easier and more scalable for fleets,” Frank Muehlon, president of ABB’s e-mobility division, told TechCrunch. “To power progress, the industry must bring together the best minds and adopt an entrepreneurial approach to product development.” 

ABB brings experience in e-mobility solutions, energy management and charging technology to the table, which will combine with AWS’s cloud and software to make a single-view platform that can be tailored to whichever company is using it. Companies will be able to monitor things like charge planning, EV maintenance status, and route optimization based on the time of day, weather and use patterns. Muehlon said they’ll work with customers to explore ways to use existing data from fleets for faster implementation.

The platform will be hosted on the AWS cloud, which means that it can scale anywhere AWS is available, which so far includes in 25 regions globally.

The platform will be hardware-agnostic, meaning any type of EV or charger can work with it. Integration of software into specific EV fleets will depend on the fleet’s level of access to third-party asset management systems and onboard EV telematics, but the platform will support a layered feature approach, wherein each layer provides more accurate vehicle data. Muehlon says this makes for a more seamless interface than existing third-party charging management software, which don’t have the technology or the flexibility to work with the total breadth of EV models and charging infrastructure. 

“Not only do fleet managers have to contend with the speed of development in charging technology, but they also need real-time vehicle and charging status information, access to charging infrastructures and information for hands-on maintenance,” said Muehlon. “This new real-time EV fleet management solution will set new standards in the world of electric mobility for global fleet operators and help them realize improved operations.”

This software is aimed at depot and commercial fleets, as well as public infrastructure fleets. Muehlon declined to specify any specific EV operators or customers lined up to use this new technology, but he did say there are “several pilots underway” which will “enable us to ensure that we are developing market-ready solutions for all kinds of fleets.” 

Woven Capital kicks off portfolio with investment in autonomous delivery company Nuro

Woven Capital, the investment arm of Toyota’s innovation-focused subsidiary Woven Planet, has announced an investment into Silicon Valley-based autonomous delivery vehicle company Nuro. This kicks off the new $800 million strategic fund, which will invest in growth-stage technology companies that could one day develop into partners or acquisitions to further a mission of building the future of safe mobility, according to George Kellerman, Woven Capital’s head of investments and acquisitions.  

Woven Capital’s contribution was part of Nuro’s $500 million Series C funding round, which was announced last November. Chipotle also invested in the round, which also included funds managed by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc., with participation from new investors Fidelity Management & Research Company, LLC and Baillie Gifford. The specific amounts invested by each stakeholder were not disclosed. 

Toyota announced the $800 million investment pool in September 2020, and Woven Capital was officially formed in January 2021, with the aim of investing in technologies including autonomous mobility, machine learning, artificial intelligence, automation, connectivity and data and analytics. 

“Nuro was a good jumping off point, because a lot of the work that we’re doing is really focused on developing autonomous passenger vehicles, so this is a way for us to learn and advance through a partner that is laser-focused on local goods delivery,” Kellerman told TechCrunch. “There’s a lot of opportunity to learn from them, and potentially over time, to collaborate and help them expand globally.”

Nuro’s fleet of cargo-only self-driving vehicles has already been approved by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles to test on public roads, delivering goods from partners like Krogers, Domino’s, Walmart and CVS. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated the need for goods delivery, giving Nuro an opportunity to become a leader in this space. Woven Capital saw an opportunity to help accelerate and strengthen that leadership position, while also setting up a strategic knowledge sharing arrangement between the two. 

“[Woven Capital] has assembled a great team with ambitious goals for the future, and we share a common objective of transforming the way people live and move to make life better,” said Nuro co-founder and president Dave Ferguson in a statement. “We’ll use this new capital, and the support of one of the largest automotive companies in the world, to continue growing our team and building a great autonomous delivery product.”

Toyota Woven City concept render.

Toyota Woven City concept render. Image Credits: Toyota

Automation will be a big part of Woven Capital’s portfolio, which exists to support all of parent Woven Planet’s activities, including Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype. In February, Toyota broke ground at the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the base of Mount Fuji. 

“When we think about Woven City, we think about autonomous mobility and automation more broadly,” said Kellerman. “To facilitate that, you’re going to need artificial intelligence, machine learning, data and analytics, connectivity. So we’re going to be building a portfolio that has investments in all those areas.”

A growing trend in the mobility industry is to view mobility not just as the movement of people and goods, but as the movement of information and data. Woven Planet recognizes this and is taking a software-first approach, particularly when it comes to automobiles. This means that instead of the historical auto industry approach of designing the hardware first, and then fitting in the software to operate that vehicle, you start with the software and build hardware around it. 

Building off a software-first architecture provides a lot flexibility for future innovation. If the hardware changes, you don’t have to rewrite the code, you could just add in another application. Kellerman said all the software Woven Planet is developing as a company should be usable in as many applications as possible. 

Having really strong, integrated software is also the logical next step for connected mobility, and it opens up doors for rethinking what a vehicle has the potential to transport. A Nuro vehicle isn’t just a vehicle for whatever groceries it’s delivering, but it’s also a vehicle for all the information it picks up along the way and transmits back to the cloud, such as traffic flows and weather patterns. The value, therefore, is less in the A to B utility, and more in the interchange of information. 

Some of the information collected by Nuro that could be immediately useful to Woven City is that related to street safety. Nuro’s vehicles don’t carry passengers, so the design features focus more on the safety of people outside of the vehicle, the aggregate data of which could be useful in human-centered city planning. 

In the end, Woven Capital’s long-term view is always a potential funnel to future mergers and acquisitions, said Kellerman. 

“Toyota is not historically a very acquisitive company, but within Woven Planet we’re building a corporate development team with an eye to how we can accelerate the vision and mission of Woven Planet through strategic acquisitions, as well,” said Kellerman.

Lime launches app-less rides and no fee reservations to get more people riding

Lime is rolling out several new features, including the ability to rent electric scooters without downloading the app, in an effort to attract more riders. 

The micromobility company announced Wednesday a series of product features that aims to remove barriers to entry for new users, while increasing accessibility to its vehicles. The new features include free vehicle reservations up to 10 minutes, closest vehicle recommendations and the option to view the app in dark mode.

The app-less experience is already live in more than half of Lime’s 130 markets, where developers have been monitoring and analyzing its usage. This feature is only available on e-scooters. The free vehicle reservations and recommendations features can be used when renting Lime’s e-scooters and e-bikes — and across every market and language, according to Lime developers.  

“We use rider feedback to build out the app or any features associated with it,” senior product manager Vijay Murali told TechCrunch. App store reviews, customer service tickets complaining about a feature or a lack of it, customer surveys and research sessions with riders from around the world all inform the direction developers take with new features. In the case of these latest updates, Murali said the team identified three goals their customers were trying to accomplish. 

“The first is that many users are ready to try this new form of transport, but they don’t want to download the app and make the commitment,” said Murali. “The second is a price concern for those who ride with us frequently, and the third is about making it easier, especially in a big city, to find the closest vehicle to you.”

Image Credits: Lime

Now when a customer open the apps, they’ll be directed towards the nearest vehicle and offered the option of reserving it for free, which Murali said streamlines the process of just jumping on a scooter and helps make riding a daily habit.

The app-less riding feature is geared towards those who are new to micromobility, might not have any space on their phones to download the app or are on an expensive international data plan.

To use the feature, customers need to scanning a QR code with their camera app which connects to Apple’s App Clips or Android’s Instant App features. Customers can then confirm the ride and use Apple Pay or Google Pay to start riding. Technically, users are actually downloading a sliver of the app — only 10 megabytes versus 100 megabytes for the full app, and only for eight hours. To the average rider, it just appears as if they’re opening a file or app on their phone, which is a lot quicker than downloading the app, creating an account, adding a payment method and reading a tutorial, which takes about five minutes rather than 30 seconds.

This feature will result in less Lime app downloads, and thus less user data. But Lime says it is more interested in hard sales at the moment. 

“We also see a relatively high download conversion rate,” said another senior product manager, Zach Kahn. “The reduction in friction and needing to choose a payment method or vehicle drastically increases that conversion and makes up a meaningful percentage of our first trips now.” 

Kahn declined to provide conversion rates for those who were introduced to Lime via app-less rides. Murali also noted that more riders in test cities began reserving vehicles when Lime removed the cost. Previously, adoption was low at around 3%.  

“It’s all about ensuring people from different segments of society, in particular underserved areas, have less friction to access Lime vehicles,” said Murali. “In an underserved community, how much a scooter costs to ride is top of mind, so removing these unnecessary reservation fees makes them more likely to ride now.”

Lime, which is backed by Uber and Alphabet, is one of the companies in the running for the coveted New York City pilot e-scooter program in the Bronx, a borough with many low-income communities and transit deserts. Each company has its own unique selling points. Superpedestrian, for example, chooses to err on the side of first-class safety features and geofencing compliance. But Murali says Lime’s leg up comes in its sheer size and ability to quickly execute new features.  

“We don’t just say we put riders first, but we figure out exactly how to do it, and then we make those features and improvements in the app happen,” said Murali. “That’s what differentiates us; how much meaningful progress we are making, at what scale and how fast. We have this new tech in the form of App Clips, for example, and we tested it fast, brought a product to market and now we’re rolling it out in every market we can.”

In a statement, Lime claims to be the first micromobility company to introduce app-less riding, however Apple appears to have demoed App Clips by renting a scooter from Spin, which also responded to New York’s RFP. A spokesperson from Spin said the company is working with Apple to bring the App Clip experience to its e-scooters in the future.

Superpedestrian positions itself as the go-to partner for cities with new e-scooter safety upgrades

Superpedestrian, the startup that makes e-scooters equipped with self-diagnostic software, is upgrading its product as it prepares for a major expansion into 10 new cities within the next two weeks.

Superpedestrian is considered an up-and-coming player in the micromobility world because of how it handles safety issues. The company has developed AI — which is integrated into the vehicle — that monitors and corrects scooter safety issues in real time. The next-generation operating system that will provide those upgrades, codenamed “Briggs,” will be uploaded to its global fleet of LINK e-scooters. It includes improvements to geofencing capabilities and battery life, making Superpedestrian more attractive to cities looking for partners who can provide assurances around safety and reliability.

“The scooter market has shifted in its short lifespan from a B2C to, in a lot of ways, more like a B2G [business-to-government],” said David Zipper, visiting fellow at the Taubman Center for State and Local Government at the Harvard Kennedy Center. “The trend has been for cities to reduce the number of concessions they grant to scooter operators, which puts more pressure on scooter operators to get one of those declining numbers of contracts available. You can’t really overstate how important it is, which technologies will rise and fall, and how companies position themselves.”

Superpedestrian is one of the underdog e-scooter companies that are in the running for partnerships with cities like New York, which will soon be announcing the specifics of its e-scooter pilot program in the Bronx. Micromobility giants like Bird, Lime and Voi have also placed bids. 

The company currently operates in cities across the U.S., including Seattle, Oakland, San Jose and San Diego, as well as European cities like Madrid and Rome. 

“Cities love our 100% compliance record,” Ross Ringham, Superpedestrian’s EMEA director of communications, told TechCrunch. “We have never been censured, suspended nor expelled from any of our markets. We believe it is critical to work hand-in-hand with regulators to provide a successful service.”

City officials today are most concerned with complaints about scooters cluttering up sidewalks, so being able to clear the sidewalk or diagnose a broken scooter right away and summon someone to come and collect it would be an appealing value proposition for Superpedestrian, said Zipper.

The LINK scooters are powered by a Vehicle Intelligent Safety (VIS) system, which combines AI, 73 sensors and five microprocessors to run 1,000 vehicle health checks every second a ride is taking place. The software is constantly self-monitoring and self-correcting, looking out for things like brake issues, battery cell temperature imbalances, cut internal wires and water penetration. 

“VIS is as big a step-change in scooter safety as the seat belt was for cars, refined over four million miles of testing and service since 2013,” said Ringham. “As a result, we’ve had zero vehicle recalls or manufacturing defects globally.”

The new update also includes 22% faster geofence reaction, three time more capacity for onboard geofences and sevenfold more precision when it comes to geofence accuracy. That means the scooter is able to better recognize a no-ride zone, and improve rider compliance by slowing down speeds and prohibiting riding or parking in certain areas. 

The fact that these computations are done in real time, locally on the scooter itself, accounts for the speed and accuracy of LINK’s system, which reacts in as little as 0.7 seconds, and as few as 4.6 meters away from where a geofence-related issue was first detected. Other scooter companies tend to rely on cloud computing to calculate and enforce geofences, which can be too slow to stop riders from speeding through pedestrian areas or busy traffic. 

“Our competitors typically buy off-the-shelf products and commonly use white label apps,” said Ringham. “We do not outsource safety in this manner, meaning the information flows from our operations team and global fleets are used by our engineering teams to sustain continuous improvement.”

Companies like Bird, Atom and Joyride offer white label operating systems that allow independent operators to launch their own rideshares and manage fleets, but not many players offer the type of safety-focused tech you see with LINK.

Detailed logs are also pulled by engineering teams to enhance performance with each updates, so the scooters get smarter over time, according to founder and CEO Assaf Biderman. The aggregated and anonymized data collected from LINK’s onboard software is also shared with city partners to help them design better infrastructure to support this emerging transport form.

“If a city partner comes to us with a new idea, we can easily add that, thanks to VIS,” Biderman said in a statement. “This makes for constantly-improving vehicles for riders, better protection for pedestrians and more robust safety performance for cities. Cities should demand nothing less for their citizens.”