Bird Scooters: Unpacking the Tech Stack Powering this Innovation by@iamdarbycox

Bird Scooters: Unpacking the Tech Stack Powering this Innovation

Darby HackerNoon profile picture


Creative Entrepreneur. Start-Ups & E-Commerce focused.

I’m talking about the electronic, app-ordered scooters that we’re seeing scattered across the sidewalks of some of the United States more populated cities. More interestingly, let’s use it as an opportunity to parallel — in fairly understandable terms —what it means that technology is exponentially growing, and how that impacts us.

We hear all the time about the potential job displacement that will occur because of the advancement of technology. This is true. But conversely — where is the conversation about the jobs created? The new industries created?

Twenty years ago — this combination of technology didn’t exist. Why?

Twenty years ago the technology used to power these services didn’t exist, and certainly wasn’t being used in combination to create a brand new billion dollar industry.

When I was five, scooters existed. They’ve been around for about 200 years, scooters were invented in Germany in 1817. A few decades later (1895) and we see our first motorized scooter, and 1915 is the first large commercial offering of a motorized scooter product. Electric scooters, as the devices that Bird et all use, have been around for decades. Birds are, at their core, scooters. And twenty years ago, just like the previous 180 years, scooters were simply metal [or wood] on wheels.

The typical foldable scooter that conjures up thoughts of tech companies and cul-de-sac bbqs became incredibly popular in the United States around 2000, with electric scooters hitting the main stream streets soon after.

Naturally, electric scooters first “happened” in Silicone Valley.

In 2012 — Scoot Networks launches a scooter-sharing & electric bicycle sharing service in San Francisco. This is the first iteration of the app-based, sharable scooter system.

Six years later, the first centrally networked, cellular enabled, electric scooter-sharing app based system hit the San Francisco streets in late 2017, rolling out in Washington DC & Los Angeles right after. Enter Bird, founded in 2017, like competitors, Lime, [2017], Spin [2017] which turned electric scooters into a multi-billion dollar industry essentially overnight.

Considered one of, if not the, fastest growing company to hit Unicorn status, Bird created an industry (with hundreds of jobs) that only exists because of innovations created in the last two decades.

In year 2019, Bird now operates in over 100 cities around the world, with a 2 billion dollar evaluation, with over 800 people in its employ.

Okay, so now let’s back up and talk timeline of some of the technology used for Bird. First, how do electric scooter sharing systems work, in basic? The scooters are managed via a cell-phone app, and there’s a whole team of people that pick them up and charge them, and there’s the actual user usage. For our purposes in this discussion:

  1. Download app
  2. Locate Scooter
  3. Unlock Scooter

So, downloading the app. Cell phones were invented in 1973. The first smartphone [with 10 apps] was 1994. 1983 is the creation of the network of networks for the foundation of the internet as we know it, and 1990 gives us the world wide web. We’ve got WiFi, introduced in 1997. Bluetooth came three years prior in 1994.

Ok. Locate Scooter. The scooters themselves are located & tracked via GPS, they’re bluetooth / wifi enabled, so you are going to find that little sucker right there on your nifty cellular device. 1999 gave us GPS in our cellular phones, 2005 for Google Maps, and 2008 before Google Maps is available on cellular devices.

The U.S government created GPS [global positioning system, in case that was always an acronym for you] in 1973, allowed for us regular folks in the 1980s.

Unlock Scooter. This concept obviously doesn’t work unless these companies solicit money for the scooter usage, so the scooters will not function until you’ve paid up and connected to your particular scooter. Some scooter companies unlock via QR code - invented in 1994 to track manufacturing components, but cell-phones with cameras weren’t invented until 2002, and you’re likely doing this with an I-phone or Android [October 2007 & September 2008, respectively]. Apple’s app store was released July, 2008.

There are a few other billion dollar companies that have come about based on many of the same technologies. The concept of ride sharing was popularized with the invention and launch of Uber, 2009, with Lyft following in 2012. As another fun comparison — it took Uber 4 years to reach a 1 billion dollar evaluation, with home-sharing app Airbnb [2008] taking 3. Uber also utilizes GPS, WiFi, cell phones, GoogleMaps, to name a few.

The technology to create and utilize this system of digitally managed, shared electric scooters came about over the last 40 years, with the majority of the technological inventions happening in the last 20, for the last 5 years to demonstrate one viable instance of these multitudes of tech innovations working as a single product.

Imagine being in a board room on Wall Street 20 years ago. Imagine telling an investor in two decades, scooters could be worth 2 billion, do you think that he’d believe you? What about what’s going to come in the next 20 years?

While we’re caught up reading articles about how the rise of technology is taking all of our jobs, maybe we should take some time to identify the converse as well.

There will be job displacement with the rise of technology. Transportation, as evidenced in this post, is going to change drastically from our most common methods two decades ago. Industry can lobby all it wants, but we can’t stop the growth of the technology we’ve created. We can’t contain the multitudes of ways it can grow, combine, and change.

We’re entering a new society of changing industries, with sectors emerging that couldn’t have 20,30,40 years ago. A little amount of fear before something great is to be expected, but let’s not be unreasonable.

Change is the only constant we’re assured, and we’ve already opened Pandora’s box. There’s limitless potential to the rise of technology, and we’re far too late to prevent it — so we might as well enjoy the ride.


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