Slow and steady moving won the race for the tortoise over the hare. A new startup called Tortoise, that is coming out of stealth and launching, is using slow motion, remote teleoperation and autonomous driving to jump many hurdles on the road to micromobility e-scooter and e-bike adoption.
Auto Futures has talked to Tortoise’s co-founder Dmitry Shevelenko, who revealed how Tortoise’s repositioning technology and service solution could change the future of shared micromobility.
Tortoise solves many of growing pains of shared micromobility companies, says Shevelenko, who sees one of the challenges of micromobility as the clutter and obstruction on sidewalks.
“Research shows that micromobility is cannibalizing pedestrians,” says Shevelenko. Because riders have to walk to find an e-scooter and micromobility is not reliable, drivers take their cars or use an app for a rideshare service.
Micromobility companies are not sustainable and are expensive, adds Shevelenko. They have to pay someone to drive around in a gas-powered truck or van to pick up the e-scooters or e-bikes which can cost as much as $10 per scooter when scooters may only be making $20 a day.
Slow, Safe and Stable
Tortoise offers a combination of technology, software and service solution to solve micromobility challenges. E-scooter and e-bike makers add about an extra $100 of hardware that enables the remote repositioning at a low-speeds of the vehicles. YIMI, Veemo, Tronx Motor and ACTON, have already signed on to incorporate Tortoise technology into their bikes and scooters.
“Our vision is to be the Android of light electric vehicles,” declares Shevelenko.
“We’ve found a way to manage latency so anyone with internet access and a smartphone can operate low-speed repositioning,” says Shevelenko. The e-scooters are equipped with a rear ‘training wheel’ that deploys keeping scooters stable and allows them to move without a rider.
At first, the vehicles will be remotely moved through teleoperation and eventually, the vehicles will move autonomously when it is safe to do so.
Tortoise has employees who are trained and certified as teleoperators in Mexico City who will operate the vehicles. Tortoise clients across Europe and the U.S. will be charged by mileage or by the month for the service that also includes insurance.
The Tortoise technology allows the vehicles to change routing and move at a slow speed (4 mph 6.4374 km/h) to arrive at an ETA for a rider. The vehicles can be remotely moved to a city-designed parking area a nightly pick up area, transit hub or back to a staging area.
Tried and Tested
Shevelenko credits Tortoise’s co-founder David Graham as the genius who came up with the idea. Graham worked creating unique designs for Apple and other tech companies. Graham was working for a lawnmower client and realised that he could use parts typically used in smartphones such as cameras, accelerometers, gyroscopes, wireless connectivity and a circuit board to run a lawnmower from a smartphone – which would also work for micromobility.
Shevelenko has a background in the micromobilty space. He worked with Uber to negotiate the Jump acquisition, adding transit and short-term rentals to the platform. He also advised micromobility companies Skip and Superpedestrian. He understands that micromobility must work in cooperation with cities and transit authorities. The advisory board of Tortoise is a ‘Who’s Who’ of city, policy, transit and accessibility leaders.
Tortoise will cooperate with the cities in how and where the vehicles will be operating. If an area has a very wide sidewalk Tortoise may use it when allowed. Tortoise will not be operating in the same lanes as cars. Tortoise will not share the video due to privacy concerns but it will share the locations of the vehicles and the route taken with cities.
Surprisingly, scooters going only at 4 mph (6.4374 km/h) don’t cause much damage. For example, Tortoise tested a Tortoise-enabled scooter with a four-year-old and nobody was hurt. The cameras can identify problems in the pavement but also, when the scooters are moving that slowly, they are less likely to fall over.
If a scooter falls over the operator will be notified. Tortoise is testing adding a small speaker to warn pedestrians, says Shevelenko.
U.S Partnerships and Deployment
The first place of deployment of Tortoise micromobility technology will be Peachtree Corners, Georgia which is a city with a population of 40,000 and it’s home to two Olli driverless shuttles.
CityBee, Shared, Go X and Wind will be the first operators to deploy Tortoise technology.
Ed Schmidt, COO and EMEA CEO, Wind, says: “We are excited about our new partnership with Tortoise as it is a natural fit for Wind. It will allow us to keep sidewalks clean and safe for pedestrians, while delivering on our mission to always have a scooter within a 2 minute walk of a user ready to take a ride. This technology will enable us to provide the best mobility service for our users and the city authorities.”
“We chose the name Tortoise because a tortoise lives a hundred years. The technology’s been a hundred years coming and low-speed always comes before high-speed,” says Shevelenko – who believes in a slow and steady approach…
Tortoise test video in Atlanta, Georgia.