Andreas Sandre

@andreas212nyc

Tiny cars, better mobility?

(Photo credit: Kim Leuenberger)

The rebirth of Segway and the future of private and shared transportation.

In 2009, almost 10 years ago, Segway and General Motors teamed up to create a new type of personal transport vehicle dubbed Project PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility). Back then, the two-wheeled electric vehicle — essentially an upsized and modified Segway scooter with seating for two — was introduced at the New York Auto Show.

As Brad Stone recently wrote in Bloomberg: “It was 17 years ago that inventor Dean Kamen rolled his Segway onto the set of Good Morning America and into the annals of entrepreneurial infamy. Legendary venture capitalist John Doerr and Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos were ebullient at the time about the market opportunity for the electric, two-wheeled vehicle. Doerr predicted that Segway would hit $1 billion in sales as fast as any company in history.”

It didn’t happen.

17 years later, Segway scooters have almost disappeared — if not for malls and city tours — replaced by the electric scooters that the company now manufactures for startups like Bird, Lime , and others. But the almost 10-year-old PUMA has reappeared on my LinkedIn feed with a video post by Jon Steinberg, president and CEO of Cheddar.

This tiny car is just for the city.

Gotta love it! Mostly because during the past 17 years, Segway has resisted the market and survived it… Or it tried, as in 2015 it was acquired by Chinese manufacturer Ninebot. And it’s now experiencing a rebirth. I’m not sure if, after 10 years, the PUMA tiny car will ever get released, but the same-ish concept is being refurbished by many new transportation startups.

Segway and GM’s PUMA

Rob Cotter, founder of Organic Transit, explained to Have A Go how “little electric vehicles can play a central role in smart cities, serving as nodes in a wide mesh network, acting as mini cell towers, as battery banks, and as a sensor suites for air pollution, pothole detection, etc. The coming rollout of 5G for instance, telecos will need to install many more towers compared to today’s 4G to achieve the promised high bandwidth. Instead of trying to stick fixed towers everywhere, they could perhaps wire little electric vehicles like the ELF and have them serve as roaming towers, creating an immediately deployable network rather than spending the months or years it takes to put fixed towers everywhere.”

The ELF by Organic Transit

The ELF is a tiny car-ish. It is a solar and pedal hybrid vehicle. Organic Transit dubbed it as “The most efficient vehicle on the planet” and TreeHugger’s Sami Grover recently pointed out that, despite the ELF being extremely expensive to buy for private use, it would be perfect for sharing.

Already startup Lime, whose fleet already includes electric scooters and bikes, is eyeing new transportation products and, as reported by Bloomberg, is developing what it refers to as ‘transit pods’. It’s still not clear whether it would have three or four wheels, but it would drive in normal street traffic, and could hit a top speed of about 40 miles per hour, Brad Bao, Lime’s co-founder and chairman, told Bloomberg.

Cities need pods because traditional cars are overkill for the bulk of urban driving, Bao said. Most trips consist of a single person looking to travel three miles or less. “They don’t need to have a five seater or a seven-seater, plus all that gasoline consumption,” he said. “But there is no such product out there to meet their needs.” he said. “Our goal is to be a leading multimodal company,” said Toby Sun, co-founder and CEO.

I’ve written about multimodality and mobility a few weeks back.

In a post here on Medium, founder and CEO of Scoot Michael Keating defines multimodality as “the 21st century subway system.” Scoot is currently introducing an electric kick-style scooter to its fleet of electric moped scooters and electric bicycles and, like Lime, is eyes electric four-wheeler vehicles.

The Microlino by Micro Mobility Systems

Recently, the Microlino caught my attention. This quirky, small, electric city car — first shown at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show — has now passed its last tests and is now legal across European roads. According to Micro Mobility Systems, the Swiss company that created the Microlino, production will start soon and with deliveries in Switzerland thereafter, before entering into the market in Germany in 2019. The Microlino program started in April 2016 with a joint-venture with Italian car manufacturer Tazzari.

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