Uber is developing autonomous scooters and bikes, according to 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson, who announced that the company had divulged the plans at a robotics conference over the weekend.
Anderson’s disclosure apparently came before the company had planned to go public with the idea, and he later clarified that it’s Jump Bikes, Uber’s e-bike sharing company, that is working on self-driving bikes and scooters, The Verge reports.
The idea falls in line with recent efforts to make Jump Bikes more competitive with Bird and Lime, the two leading startups in the bike-sharing market. In December, Uber announced a new generation of improved Jump bikes geared toward that goal. Some new features aim to make the bikes easier to use, harder to vandalize, and to reduce the need for repairs.
The new bikes also include batteries that can be swiftly replaced anywhere, reducing the costs of collecting a whole fleet of bikes spread over a large metropolitan area for charging each night.
Jump’s product chief, Nick Foley, said to TechCrunch in December:
“That is a major improvement to system utilization, the operating system, fleet uptime and all of the most critical metrics about how businesses are performing with running a shared fleet. Swappable batteries mean you don’t have to take vehicles back to wherever you charge a bike or scooter, and that’s good for the business.”
Autonomous bikes could make the vehicles even easier to charge, bringing themselves to the warehouse, and then immediately back where they are most in demand – all without the need for human intervention. They could even be called to arrive exactly where a rider wants to pick one up.
The company did not comment further on the story, but TechCrunch found a Google Form from Uber’s Advanced Technology Group for job seekers:
“The New Mobilities team at Uber is exploring ways to improve safety, rider experience, and operational efficiency of our shared electric scooters and bicycles through the application of sensing and robotics technologies.”
Some observers have voiced skepticism toward the idea of the project, over both the cost of the project and the potential benefits.
Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation systems analyst for the Center of Automotive Research, called it “the worst new #mobility idea yet” and an “an insane waste of time” on Twitter.
He said even if “Uber can get this to work, it will no longer be a utilitarian device. It will be some frankenscooter with gyroscopic stabilizers, multiple vision sensors, remarkably high-end compute unit of some sort, and steering actuators that have yet to be invented.”