Earlier this week, former Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson tweeted that Uber was hiring for a new “Micromobility Robotics” team that would be under its Jump Bikes umbrella — the dockless bike-sharing company it purchased last year to expand its offerings beyond its traditional ride-hailing service.
But let’s be real: you’re never going to see AI-driven bikes and scooters in your city. This is nothing more than a big (and bad) idea the company can sell to investors with little technical expertise as an example of the exciting projects it’s working on for the future, like it’s fledgling autonomous vehicle division and fantastical “flying car” project. Uber doesn’t have profitability, or even a path to achieve it, to show potential investors; they need to sell them on a vision of a future Uber transportation monopoly, and autonomous scooters are just the newest addition to the fantasy.
It’s estimated that dockless scooters last in Bird and Lime fleets for no more than one to two months, on average, but there’s been some indication their lifespans could be as low as two to three weeks. This autonomous project is being pitched as a way to save on charging costs, but it’s hard to see how it would result in cost savings with all the new gadgetry that would be necessary.
According to The Information, a Bird scooter makes an average of $3.65 per ride, but $1.72 is spent on charging costs — mainly for labour — and it seems unlikely autonomous driving would produce significant overall savings. Given the comparatively short lifespans of the scooters, their unit cost would increase with the addition of new cameras, sensors, and the computing power necessary to pilot it to wherever it needs to go to charge. Powering that system would also be a drain on the battery power, requiring more frequent charging.