At a Bay Area summit devoted to electric scooters and other new mobility devices, fans evangelized about the potential of technology. But safety was an afterthought.
Inside a luminous former factory on the Bay Area waterfront last week, software geeks, VCs, and sundry tech evangelizers zipped around on electric bikes, scooters, and hoverboards. Industry representatives from Jump, Spin, and Lyft hawked their compact transportation widgets. This was the Micromobility Conference, billed online as “an event focused on unbundling the car with lightweight electric vehicles.”
It wasn’t the world’s first summit for aficionados of tiny shared urban conveyances—one in Copenhagen in 2017 might have taken that honor. But the event’s historically resonant setting (an Albert Kahn-designed industrial space that once churned out military jeeps during World War II) and grandiose manifesto signaled a deeper seriousness than the toy-like transport devices might have implied. On the convention’s website, organizers characterized the conference as part of a movement to replace society’s dependence on the automobile with just about anything battery-powered and bike-lane-scaled. Such a shift promises be “a transformation that is not only virtuous but highly profitable.”
Like many manifestations of Silicon Valley’s obsession with disruptive transportation, the (overwhelmingly male) Micromobility Conference invited a healthy amount of disbelief. Near the entrance, two men in button-ups steered a motorized desk around a course of safety cones; another dude took a stumble on gyroscopic skates. On stage, one presenter made bold declarations about the transhumanist potential of the unicycle. Towards the end of the day, a speaker on panel of venture capitalists half-kidded about the idea of “monetizing walking.”