Micromobility in 2022: Refined, mature and packed full of tech
Image Credits: Bryce Durbin
2021 was the year micromobility as a concept, a solution and a way of life really started to settle in.
Increased shared micromobility and COVID-ridden public transit helped make small electric vehicles mainstream enough for people to wrap their heads around purchasing their own. Consequently, 2021 was the year of the e-bike, with a growth rate in sales of 240% over the 12 months leading up to July. This new normal resulted in cities adopting infrastructure plans that would have truly been unbelievable a decade ago (looking at you Paris!).
2021 was also the year that people, particularly people in cities, began talking openly about the impact of micromobility on emissions reduction, which is undoubtedly greater than the advent of the electric car.
This year, we saw shared micromobility companies really take advantage of this shift in mindset toward the humble e-scooter and e-bike, using their dominant market positions to become more operationally efficient and get their hardware on point.
So with all of this behind us setting the groundwork for the future, let’s take a look at the top predictions for the micromobility space in 2022.
E-bikes for everyone
The e-bike trend is expected to continue into 2022, especially as countries like the U.S. are now offering subsidies worth up to $900 off a new e-bike’s purchase price. But the craze won’t stop with private consumers. Tony Ho, vice president of Segway’s global business development, says the company is seeing a big jump in demand for e-bikes from micromobility companies, as well. Segway has been known to supply e-scooters and e-bikes to most of the giants of shared micromobility, such as Lime and Bird.
“In the beginning Lime was a bike-sharing company, but it didn’t go anywhere until they started to do scooters, partly because the scooter is cheaper and also it’s easier to deploy,” Ho told TechCrunch. “Now it seems like the e-bike is getting a lot more traction and we’re seeing the mix start to even out and seeing a lot more orders on the e-bike side for sharing. And for the cities, it’s a no-brainer because they have bicycle sharing programs to begin with.”
Fresh VC money is drying up
Some of the big players, like Bird and Helbiz, have gone public, something Lime has promised to do next year, and the industry has generally consolidated under a few big names. So instead of more VC money and new entrants pouring in, we’re likely to see the current market mature.
“After the whole Bird and Lime craze, I think investors have moved onto something different, like the Coco sidewalk robot delivery guys,” said Ho. “It still takes quite a bit of capital to get into this business, and the smaller guys, I personally think it’s gonna be tougher for them especially because cities require you to pay for the license, buy insurance. It’s not actually a game for the small startup anymore. Whoever survived the last wave will probably be here to stay.”
And those who are staying are doing everything they can to drive down costs, become more efficient and sustainable and be more compliant with city regulations.
But … the ride-share companies might be coming back to play
“The orders and interest we got show a lot of companies are coming back to play, so that next year, as people come out of the pandemic, micromobility is becoming a priority on their agenda,” said Ho. “We’re seeing some companies coming back, including the big names like the ride-share guys.”
During the summer of 2020, micromobility was in bad shape due to pandemic lockdowns. Uber, for example, sold off its micromobility company Jump to Lime, and more integration between the two companies followed. In May last year, Lyft also ended many of its fledgling e-scooter programs, but if Ho is to be believed, these two companies might try to get back in the game before they lose all market share.
Expect to see more AI, smarter vehicles
Cities really hate it when scooterists ride and park their vehicles on the sidewalk. They hate it so much, their hate has caused many companies to innovate and create some seriously smart scooters. Companies like Spin, Helbiz, Beam and Voi are already testing out camera-based systems built by the likes of Drover AI and Luna that can detect when a rider is riding on a sidewalk or about to hit a pedestrian and even have the capability to stop the ride in real time. Others like Superpedestrian and Bird are using a highly accurate location-based approach to implement similar advanced rider-assistance systems. Once companies figure out how to keep costs down and cities around the globe get a whiff of this fun-killing tech, the trend will only become more commonplace.
Mircromobility ADAS systems will extend beyond the shared market. Already companies like Streetlogic and Terranet are working to produce computer vision-based systems that can help e-bike riders in the consumer market ride more safely by detecting potential danger and providing collision warnings. These types of systems provide peace of mind and added safety for the average person looking to replace car trips with e-bike rides.
Having additional sensors on micromobility vehicles also opens up the door to monetization of data for companies, says Horace Dediu, an industry analyst who coined the term “micromobility.”
“We’re going to see more sensing happening and that basically means dash cams, so a lot of imaging happening,” Dediu told TechCrunch. “I know this is coming into cars, but everything that happens in cars happens on micro and often happens faster because you can roll out 100 million vehicles without that much investment.”
By placing cameras in the front and rear of micromobility vehicles, companies can image entire cities the way dash cams do today, said Dediu. If those systems can already detect sidewalks and pedestrian lanes, they’ll surely be able to detect road surface conditions that could inform cities through a shared database on road maintenance issues. Or micromobility companies could sell that information to mapping companies like Google and allow them to image the world a little better.
If you think about what else micromobility vehicles can do today, like torque sensors that measure the user’s input, Dediu predicts companies might come out with all kinds of “Peloton-like services” that attach to wearables, as well.
Micromobility and the metaverse
“There has been billions invested by Meta or Facebook, by Microsoft and Apple, trying to figure out how to interact with someone who’s wearing something on their head,” said Dediu “At the same time, when you look at micromobility, people are just saying we need to find a way to get people to wear helmets. So I simply put those two ideas together and said, well if you’re going to wear a helmet, why not make it a smart helmet? And if you’re gonna wear a smart helmet, why not make it so exciting and interesting that you will want to do so?”
A helmet with a smart visor that augments reality as you sail around a city could not only make riders more aware of their surroundings and potentially safer, but it can also unlock experiences and get people outside and moving, says Dediu.
“Micromobility and the metaverse are made for each other,” he said. “It’s about looking up. Augmentation of a car experience is nothing more than becoming more isolated looking down. So would you rather look up or look down?”
Caveat: This union may not happen in 2022, but Dediu is pretty sure it will happen in some way, shape or form over the next few years.
New — heavier — form factors
The only problem with riding a scooter or e-bike or moped to work everyday is, what happens if it rains? To solve this problem and cater to different use cases, we might start to see some new, heavier-duty, closed-roof form factors emerge in both the consumer and shared markets, according to Oliver Bruce, a strategic adviser, angel investor and co-host of the Micromobility Podcast with Horace Dediu.
Companies like Arcimoto, which recently acquired Tilting Motor Works, and Nimbus are working on some tilting three-wheeled electric vehicles that should be ready or close to going to market in 2022, says Bruce.
“If we’re serious about hitting our climate goals that we talked about at COP26, new electric vehicles are going to need to come out and scale quickly,” Bruce told TechCrunch. “If we try to ramp up electric vehicles as they currently stand, we’re just really struggling to do it. We don’t have the capacity to do it.”
Micromobility integrated into the transit mix
“I think 2022 will start to see the application of rides into public transport credit,” said Bruce. “So for example, you’ll hop off the subway and you’ll be able to hop onto an e-bike and it will be a cross-subsidized trip.”
Bruce says this will be in part a side effect of all the infrastructure plays we’re seeing with cities around the world, but mainly in Europe, of building in more bike lanes. But it will also be a function of micromobility companies getting the per mile cost of servicing vehicles down substantially.
“The economics of it start stacking up for operators to be able to sell in bulk kilometers to transport agencies, and then those transport agencies will say, cool you can do an unlock on the scooter on your metro card or via your app. Certain cities around the world will start to include this with their public transport.”
Better integrations with Maps
“2022, maybe the year after, is going to be the year of software,” said Dediu.
Today, transit planning and mapping apps like Google Maps and Moovit have started to integrate micromobility options, offering users multiple ways to reach a destination. That type of integration should beef up to the point where Maps acts as a search engine, letting you see the top transport hits within seconds.
“Today, we’re saying, I want to go from A to B, and you get three or four options, and no one’s bidding on my ride,” said Dediu. “I want to see 15 bidders. I want to see an auction happening every time I request a ride, the way Google search does. This is so obvious that I’m shocked that it’s almost 2022 and it doesn’t exist yet.
“But a lot of that is because the glue isn’t there. The interaction of the APIs aren’t there, so once that happens on the shared side, then we should have a nice explosion of opportunities for shared operators to bid on Google Maps, which should be making tons of money from micromobility. So the monetization of micromobility will be through discovery.”