Uber is reportedly recruiting engineers to develop autonomous electric bikes and scooters that will be able to ‘drive’ themselves to charging stations or to where people need them.
The ride-hailing firm entered the dockless electric bike and scooter hire market last year when it acquired US start-up Jump, and has since said it will focus on those modes of transport for short trips.
According to Telegraph.co.uk, Uber has begun hiring for a new “micromobility robotics” team that will fall under its Jump division.
The initiative is reportedly aimed at improving the efficiency – and bottom line – of the business, which currently relies on contractors to collect, charge and redistribute bicycles overnight, as well as carrying out any necessary repairs.
Uber has said in an online recruitment page that it aims to “improve safety, rider experience, and operational efficiency of our shared electric scooters and bicycles through the application of sensing and robotics technologies.”
Last December, Jump introduced its latest bikes, which include self-diagnostics and batteries that can be swapped out.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Jump’s head of product, Nick Foley, said: “That is a major improvement to system utilisation, the operating system, fleet uptime and all of the most critical metrics about how businesses are performing with running a shared fleet.
“Swappable batteries mean you don’t have to take vehicles back to wherever you charge a bike or scooter, and that’s good for the business.”
TechCrunch said that Uber had declined to comment on the latest development.
The company is currently testing self-driving cars in parts of the US having suspended a trial after a cyclist was killed by one of the vehicles in Arizona. The Uber employee in the vehicle was reportedly watching a streamed TV show at the time.
As with self-driving cars, there will presumably be legal barriers to where and how autonomous electric bikes and scooters may be operated.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.