Affable Autonomy

I have always been interested in the freedom that transportation provides. Sadly, it is we humans that are ruining it. In addition to issues of fatigue, distraction, drugs and alcohol, the mobile age has added texting, calling and taking selfies to the list of issues making us increasingly less capable of maintaining the attention span required to safely operate a motor vehicle. Our current roadways are severely hampered by the human touch. Computers are coming for everything, and this is one area I believe we will all be better off and safer for it.

I have been following the proliferation of autonomous vehicles for years. However, a new idea sparked when I started seeing the proliferation of Lime and Bird scooters all over urban and suburban areas. Perhaps the future of transportation is not 5 passenger cars as we know them, but rather in single occupancy vehicles.

Scooters are silly, but approachable, and a great tool to get early adopters in the door.

Scooters today have slower speeds than other vehicles and have a variety of other issues: user error (being left scattered throughout the streets/sidewalks), battery life, safety and functionality.

But they also offer tremendous convenience and the ability to connect to travel hubs (trains, buses, boats, hovercrafts, VTOL, etc).

I decided to focus on the positives, and embarked on a bit of non-scientific research journey to learn about the potential of single occupant travel (feel free to check, provide assistance, debunk, etc)

  • The Lime scooter can travel an average of 30 miles per charge based on new partnership w/segway team. This is based on rider weight (160 lbs), flat surface, 70 degrees, controlled speed (no fast acceleration).
  • The Bird Scooter averages 20 miles per charge. Same parameters apply
  • A single charge for one scooter battery requires approximately ½ kwh (not including energy and power used by current human bird electric chargers to go round up the scooters) Charge time per battery ~5 hours to charge from a standard home convenience outlet.
  • This would be significantly faster with 240v or use of wireless, deployed charging kickstand (yet to be seen, but i am sure exists), or something like the Tesla robotic charging arm.
  • For sake of argument, let’s say this ½ kwh is being generated in California. 7.6 cents for a ½ kwh.
  • 1 kwh of electric power generation using conventional fossil fuels creates approximately 1lb of CO2 or 900 grams, significantly less if using reusable power sources, wind, hydro, solar.
  • Using this as our CO2 baseline the following would be the CO2 Output per mile from the above mentioned forms of transportation
  • Lime Scooter: ~30 grams of CO2 per mile
  • Bird Scooter: ~45 grams of CO2 per mile
  • Conversely burning one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline emits 9000 grams of CO2
  • Using the 2018 Honda Civic & its combined fuel efficiency rating for 2018 of 35 miles per gallon this vehicle emits `~257 grams of CO2 per mile (2018 US fuel economy ratings)
  • In 2015 in the US we drove 3.2 Trillion miles. In CO2 emission this equals 822,400,000,000,000 grams or 1,815,452,538,631 lbs
  • Based on NHTS Study from 2009 57% of all miles driven in the United States were for trips under 5 miles, 1,824,000,000,000 miles
  • I have been unable to find a clear or credible source to provide what percentage of these miles are for a single occupant in the vehicle. (If anyone out there has better/any data on this would greatly appreciate it)
  • However, for the sake of this not so scientific, yet numerically based discussion about scooters let’s say that 35% of all rides under 5 miles were for a single passenger
  • 35% = 638,400,000,000 miles or 362,182,781,456 lbs of CO2
  • If all of these rides were to be completed by a Lime Scooter (not possible, but go with me here, its a numerical fantasy) rather than a car the difference in pounds of CO2 released into the atmosphere would be 319,904,635,761 less LBS per year or 2.15 Billion 150 pound people not being emitted into the air.
  • Again a bold assumption to assume we could convert all of these rides to single passenger scooters, but just some fun math to show big changes can come from funny new ideas.

Saving the environment is nice and all, but what about ME! I want it right now, I want it to be great, convenient, and at my will!

In the future, single occupant vehicles will be more substantial, not requiring user to balance or steer and will have safety/weather improvements (dome, airbags, internal guidance and fully autonomous). They would be accessible both on the spot of reserved ahead, and all from the comfort of your digital device.

To improve single occupant vehicles, I would like to see two initial changes made:

  1. Micro Autonomous Movement: Tired of seeing scooters & bikes haphazardly dropped wherever the user left it? The solution could be to allow these vehicles to make a low speed move (under 5 feet) to a safer and more convenient spot for future usage.
  2. Off Hours Autonomous Deployment/Recharge. Scooters should be able to be booked to your residence for an early am arrival. Deploying at low traffic times, like the middle of the night, would avoid most other vehicles on the road limiting risk of damage or accident. In addition, the vehicles could travel at off peak times to designated charging areas where they would be able to deploy a charging kickstand or other charging method that would not require human interaction.

Putting something new on our roads is hard. We have all accepted the current level of risk and the insurance industry and government agencies have put various controls & laws in place to profit from risk and risk aversion. I believe we need to find a middle ground — perhaps in these simple scooters deployed at off hours autonomously or semi-autonomously (imagine scooter rancher rustling up his or her flock of scooters) .

The future is scary to some, and risky for all, but without pushing the limits on our socially acceptable risk profile, we may be delaying massive innovation and efficiency that will both reduce our emission of CO2, but also greatly improve the QOL for our society. Next time you see someone riding a scooter instead of laughing think about how this silly new idea might usher in the future of transportation.