Get smart: Artificial intelligence trial set to make e-scooters safer around pedestrians

Artificially intelligent electric scooters that can slow down or stop when being driven illegally will be rolled out in the first large-scale Australian trial of the technology.

Mar 23, 2023, updated Mar 23, 2023
A trial has been announced for artificial intelligence to make e-scooters more safe in crowded areas. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

A trial has been announced for artificial intelligence to make e-scooters more safe in crowded areas. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Beam revealed plans to test its “smart” scooter addition, called Pedestrian Shield, in Hobart on Wednesday.

The technology will be added to 20 e-scooters in the company’s Tasmanian fleet, making it the biggest artificially intelligent scooter trial outside Auckland.

Beam communications head Michelle Leong said the smart electric scooters had the potential to improve public safety while also boosting the reputation of e-scooter riders.

“There is a small number of riders who do the wrong thing, whether it’s because they don’t realise what the right thing is or whether they’re deliberately breaking the rules,” she said.

“For us, we see this as technology, education and enforcement. We want to have the technology detect and correct behaviour where we possibly can.”

Beam’s Pedestrian Shield technology, developed using AI software from US firm Drover, uses a camera to scan and map public areas.

Leong said the technology in its initial phase would be used to identify different types of paths across Hobart using symbols, road widths and other cues to differentiate between footpaths, bike paths and roads.

In its second stage, the technology would sound alerts when riders were exceeding speed limits or riding where they shouldn’t and in its final phase would automatically slow or stop e-scooters if they were being used to break the law.

“In cities where only riding on footpaths is allowed, for example, we can cap that lower speed on the footpath or we can slow a scooter to a stop if it isn’t allowed somewhere,” Leong said.

Beam is one of the shared e-scooter companies competing for a long-term licence to operate in Hobart after a 15-month trial was deemed successful by the local council in February.

Hobart City Council is expected to issue new requirements for bidding e-scooter firms, including minimum insurance protections for riders and strict rules about parking.

Shared e-scooters have been tested in several Australian cities since 2018 including western Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Darwin and Launceston.

But laws governing their use differ from state to state, with privately owned e-scooters unable to be driven in Sydney and Melbourne, for example, and different speed limits, location restrictions and age limits in many jurisdictions.

Use of the micro-mobility technology has also been controversial, with studies identifying high injury rates among some riders and inconsistent helmet use.

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