Neuron Mobility

Bike-sharing companies such as oBike, Mobike and Ofo could soon find themselves competing with a deluge of e-scooters in Singapore — if local startup Neuron Mobility has anything to say about it.

E-scooters are becoming fairly popular with Singaporeans. According to a Straits Times report last year, there is already an estimated 20,000 e-scooters zooming along the pavements and streets of Singapore.

Now Zachary Wang, the co-founder of Neuron Mobility,  is leveraging on the bike-sharing model to encourage more public transport commuters to pick up e-scooter travel.

There are currently a few barriers that stand in the way of mainstream adoption of e-scooters. Most of them, unlike bicycles, cost at least a few hundred dollars (though there are some that are priced under a hundred dollars if you do a bit of searching).

But it isn’t just the price that poses a challenge; operating an e-scooter is a bit more technical and, like learning to ride a bicycle, it takes a bit of practice.

To add to that, since e-scooter is a relatively new phenomenon, most commuters would not have had the opportunity to learn how to ride one in their youth (manual versions, also known as ‘skate scooters’, were a fad back in the early 00s but it never became as popular as bicycles).

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Neuron’s business model significantly lowers the barrier to entry for the world of e-scooter zipping. Its e-scooter rides are priced at S$0.50 (US$0.35) per 15 minutes. The company also plans to roll out subscription passes, though it is still working on the specifics.

To register as a rider, users have to fork out a S$49 (US$35.50) deposit — an important step to prevent abuse considering the cost of each e-scooter (Wang did not disclose how much each unit cost but said it was in the hundreds).

There is quite a bit of smart tech embedded within Neuron’s e-scooter ecosystem.

First, the e-scooters are equipped with GPS and IoT sensors to track their location. Wang said that the sensors are also able to detect vibrations so if someone tries to take an e-scooter forcefully, the team would be notified.

Then, the docking stations are fitted with GPS capabilities. Riders are required to park at the stations to finish their rental period.

This allows the Neuron team to track the capacity of each station in real time, and quickly dispatch new e-scooters to stations that are almost empty. They also act as charging stations for the e-scooters.

And unlike most e-scooters, Neuron ‘s units are non-foldable. They are designed to fit snuggly into the docking stations for easy retrieval and parking.

To stay compliant with LTA regulations, Neuron designs its all e-scooters to fit LTA’s specifications. This means the e-scooters only have a speed limit of 15 km/h.

So technically, if a user is travelling at maximum speed, they could cover about 6.5 km for only S$1.00 (US$0.70). Each e-scooter can run for a maximum distance of 30 km before it needs to be recharged.

Intelligent transportation system

Neuron does not want to be known as a mere e-scooter-sharing platform, it also offers a regular bike-sharing service.

Call it an “intelligent transportation solutions provider”. There is a vast amount of data being collected, such as trip fare, weather conditions, start and end routes, and in the future, possibly video footage.

Neuron is also part of geospatial solutions provider Esri Singapore‘s startup initiative. This programme allows Neuron  to use Esri’s geoanalytics platform ArcGIS. The location-based analytics provided by the platform gives Neuron Mobility an insight into commuter behaviour.

The accumulated data allows the company to develop predictive models and other analysis to optimise the distribution of its bicycles and e-scooters, routes, maintenance, and placement of docking stations.

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It is also possible that, in the future, Neuron could share its data with government transport agencies to manage traffic conditions and roadworks planning, among other things.

Between now to 13 December this year, Neuron is rolling out 50 e-scooters and 20 bicycles from six parking zones situated in Singapore Science Park 1, at Ascent, The Franklin, CINTECH I and IV, 3Cs (The Chadwick, Curie and Cavendish) and opposite Oasis building.

Wang said that he wants Neuron Mobility “to be a truly viable large-scale first- and-last-mile solution.” But e-scooters offer commuters the chance to travel further with less energy exerted — you don’t need pedalling power, just a clear head. This means commuters could use e-scooters to go the whole distance.

Still, it seems unlikely, for now, that the bike-sharing industry will be completely subverted by e-scooters. Although the cost of commute is roughly the same, many riders would still want the convenience of docking at any place they wish. Then, there is the fact that more people know how to ride bicycles already, so there is no re-learning involved.

The reliability of e-scooters under severe weather conditions is also questionable. Bicycles lack electronics, so there are pretty hardy under rain or shine. Neuron Mobility will have to ensure the e-scooters do not fry or overheat under similar conditions.

And although Neuron’s e-scooters comply with LTA regulations, they are still pretty fast. If commuters are going to be experimenting with them, they are going to pose a danger to the general public.

In any case, several investors seem to be taken by e-scooter sharing. Wang said Neuron raised a seed round last year and is expecting to raise another round in the coming weeks.

But if Neuron wants gain commuters’ confidence, it not only needs to educate and ensure the public on proper e-scooter riding habits, and make sure its tech is fullproof.

For now, Wang said Neuron is working with insurance companies to not only insure the e-scooters, but also offer insurances to riders — at a minimal cost.

Image Credit: Neuron Mobility

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