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Beam Mobility is no stranger to Asia Pacific markets but, in spite of its experience in the region, the company is striving to learn more about where it operates and how it affects cities and communities.
The Singapore-based company is APAC’s largest and fastest-growing micro-mobility company, operating across five countries. But, in a bid to learn more about those markets, Beam recently launched the Micromobility Research Partnership, bringing together academics from Australia and New Zealand to “identify and promote priority pathways to reduce global transport emissions.”
Beam is funding the research and, with recently announced $93 million in Series B funding, the company should have plenty to go around. Auto Futures spoke to CEO and Co-Founder Alan Jiang to get the full picture about Beam and its APAC operations.
“Beam was founded in 2018 with the vision of helping cities flow better for everyone. Today, the most popular vehicles on the streets are combustion engine cars, which are often driving around with fewer passengers than passenger seats – i.e. a lot of empty seats moving around on the streets. This wastage is not only environmentally unfriendly but also contributes to congestion and the high cost of mobility for citizens. Our mission is to shift ‘single person journeys’ onto shared small electric vehicles – which are more environmentally friendly for the planet, help reduce congestion for cities, and help reduce the cost of mobility for customers,” said Jiang.
Micro-mobility is hugely popular in the Asia Pacific region, so for Beam to dominate the market so quickly is no mean feat. For starters, the company has had to differentiate itself from the many other players already present in this space. This is where Beam’s Micro-mobility Augmented Riding Safety (MARS) technology comes into play, differentiating it by leveraging the latest advancements in camera technology, position accuracy technology, and sensor technology to deliver safe riding experiences across e-scooters, e-bikes, and e-mopeds.
To achieve this, Jiang explained, Beam partners with ODMs (Original Design Manufacturers) to produce custom e-scooters, e-bikes, and e-mopeds that are purpose-built for sharing and have gone through a rigorous safety testing processes. These partnerships enable Beam to stay at the cutting edge of small electric vehicle tech and bring new safety and parking features to market.
Keeping it Local
With operations across five countries in APAC, Beam has a thorough understanding of the micro-mobility landscape in the region, especially of the local nuances of each of its locations.
As Jiang explains: “Micro-mobility is a local business. At the end of the day, it is all about understanding the travel needs and patterns of the local community and supporting these travel needs. Every city is different, and requires a bespoke solution, which Beam works closely with cities to provide.”
But operating in multiple regions brings the challenge of managing different regulations. Beam has been tackling this issue head-on.
“As governments and local councils require more control of the city’s spaces, and the rules for riding e-scooters become more nuanced – with varying speeds required for footpaths, bike paths, and shared path riding, e-scooters need to get smarter. For example, in Australia and New Zealand shared e-scooters have mostly been reliant on GPS, and it is becoming increasingly clear that this is not the path forward. We believe that cities in Australia and New Zealand will require a higher level of technological capability for widespread adoption of micro-mobility. This is why we will be introducing our MARS technology, harnessing onboard computer vision and AI, to give cities more control over where the vehicles can travel,” Jiang explained.
The main challenge, according to Jiang, is that e-scooters are still a very new mode of transportation. The world hasn’t seen a widespread new mode of transportation since the introduction of the car, and the introduction of something new can make people uncomfortable.
Understandably, citizens have concerns or questions about new forms of transport like shared micro-mobility, and how the service will be integrated into their neighbourhood. “Beam has the technology that addresses many of the concerns these citizens have, so the next step for us is to work on shifting perceptions and educating the broader community,” he added.
Beam has been taking pedestrian and rider safety very seriously, and rightfully so. When asked how Beam is tackling safety concerns linked to micro-mobility, Jiang said:
“Safety has and always will be the number one objective for Beam in our operations. We have the best safety record across Asia Pacific and that’s not by chance. We focus on having the best technology and rider education programmes to promote and ensure safety and have a comprehensive insurance programme for our riders.
“We also have a comprehensive in-app rider education programme to educate riders on the rules. The vast majority of trips happen without incident, and our focus is always on reducing the number of anti-social behaviour happening on our platform by both disincentivising it through bans and suspensions and working with government officials to ensure those breaking the law are identified.
“We are also the only company in Asia Pacific to run an in-person safety training course, the Beam Safety Academy, to teach real-world e-scooter safety. Whilst the ultimate target of the safety programme are riders themselves, we also see huge value in raising broader awareness of safer e-scooter riding amongst the community – particularly the non-riding public. This is incredibly important to reduce negative perceptions of e-scooters and encourage acceptance of the new mode of mobility,” he added.
“In 2022, we will be introducing our 5th-generation Saturn e-scooter to roads as well as our MARS technology, which includes increased pedestrian and rider protections, such as the ability to detect different road surfaces (such as footpaths) and adapt the speed accordingly, and the ability to slow down before a potential collision. We will also be introducing sensor-based riding behaviour analysis to detect and reduce dangerous riding, such as riding whilst intoxicated.
In March 2022, Beam started trialling its Pedestrian Shield across six cities in Australia – Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Launceston, and Adelaide. In the first phase, the Pedestrian Shield allows an e-scooter to detect road and pavement surfaces and adjust speeds accordingly. Beam’s e-scooters will also be able to accurately and reliably identify whether the vehicle is travelling on sidewalks, streets, or bike lanes and account for the differing restrictions on each.
“The technology enables Beam’s e-scooters to employ riding restrictions such as reduced speeds or no riding on pedestrian paths even in GPS-challenged areas, and will allow Beam to educate riders on safe riding in and around the cities, by providing in-trip and post-trip feedback.
“The technology was developed in a huge part for Australia, particularly due to the safety and legislative requirements for cities. For example, Queensland’s State Government recently announced reforms to the legislation governing e-rideables, requiring varying speed limits for footpaths and roads. Western Australia and Tasmania both also introduced similar legislation in late 2021. At this stage in Australia, no operator has adapted their technology to suit the more nuanced requirements from Council. Beam is committed to being the first operator here to do so,” said Jiang.
“Phase two of Pedestrian Shield, launching in mid-2022, will consist of pedestrian collision prevention, with technology to enable detection of pedestrians of footpaths and the e-scooter slowing to prevent a collision. The data gathered in the trial cities will power a nationwide roll-out of the technology later this year.”
For Jiang, the road ahead is clear, as is the answer to what the recent Series B funding would be used for. “Funds raised will be used to bring Beam’s shared micro-mobility vehicles and technology into new markets including Japan, Indonesia, and Turkey. In addition, Beam will use the funds to further enhance our suite of safety technology through the deployment of MARS,” he said.
“We will also introduce our new 5th Generation Beam Saturn e-scooter to cities, featuring 12-inch wheels (20% larger than the average e-scooter) combined with hydraulic suspension for the smoothest riding experience. Beam also plans to be the first tri-modal micro-mobility operator in Asia Pacific by introducing eMopeds into our vehicle portfolio in certain countries.”