Uber is looking to hire people to help it develop autonomous scooter and bike technology, according to Wired-editor-turned-robotics-entrepreneur Chris Anderson. The goal would be to allow bikes and scooters to “drive themselves to charging or better locations.” People interested in joining the project can fill out this form.
Uber acquired the bike- and scooter-sharing startup Jump last year and has continued offering electric bikes and scooters under the Jump brand.
One of the biggest logistical challenges for companies renting out electric bikes and scooters is how to keep the batteries charged. Companies use a variety of strategies for recharging. Some companies have employees who drive around the city picking up bikes and taking them back to charging stations. A Jump competitor called Bird has experimented with paying people to collect scooters and charge them at home.
Last month, Jump announced a new electric bike design that included swappable batteries, which should help make the charging process more efficient.
It would obviously be even better if scooters and electric bikes were able to drive themselves to the nearest charging station when they got low on power.
Adding self-driving bikes and scooters could also potentially improve vehicle utilization. Over the course of the day or week, traffic patterns can lead to too many bikes in some areas and too few in others. Some bike-sharing companies send out fleets of vans to move bikes around and ensure that they’re available all over the city. Autonomous bikes could perform this kind of reallocation without human assistance.
And while it would be a challenge to keep the vehicles upright without a rider, it’s not necessarily insurmountable. Among the vehicles competing in DARPA’s famous self-driving car competition in 2005 was a self-driving motorcycle designed by Anthony Levandowski, a grad student who went on to be a controversial figure in the self-driving industry. Levandowski’s motorcycle had retractable “training wheels” that enabled the motorcycle to stand itself upright.