European electric scooter startup Voi is turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to enable its vehicles to detect pedestrians and sidewalks, a move designed to ingratiate itself to municipalities worried about chaotic micromobility schemes.
Escooter (and ebike) sales have surged throughout 2020 as travelers sought alternatives to crowded public transport, but this proliferation serves to stoke existing safety concerns around how they’re used and deployed in busy cities. Voi is now looking to become the “first in the world” to deploy computer vision and on-device AI on scooters, to help avert collisions and issue alerts if scooters are being used contrary to local legal requirements. It’s ultimately about using real-time knowledge rather than guesswork to help scooters understand their environment.
“Voi is developing scooters that can ‘see’ what’s around them and therefore irrefutably ‘know’ what they need to do in order to be safe, whereas other scooters are trying to ‘feel’ what’s around them and use that to ‘guess’ what they should do next,” Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm told VentureBeat.
Founded out of Sweden in 2018, Voi is one of a number of escooter startups that enable citizens to download a mobile app, find the nearest scooter, and pay for each minute that they need it.
The company, which operates across dozens of cities in Europe, has raised more than $250 million in VC investment in the past couple of years and achieved profitability for the first time this year, bucking a trend that has blighted similar companies in the burgeoning micromobility space.
Central to Voi’s model so far has been working hand-in-hand with local authorities as part of a partnership, a move that has seen it score exclusive pilot deals in the U.K., which fast-tracked escooter trials back in May in response to the COVID-19 crisis. One of these pilot markets is in Northamptonshire, where it will test real-time pedestrian detection through a partnership with Irish AI startup Luna.
Founded out of Dublin in 2019, Luna emerged from Intel’s Edge AI incubator program last year, where it leveraged Intel’s Movidius Myriad X Vision chip to develop computer vision algorithms aimed squarely at scooters. Edge AI is where algorithms and the associated data are all stored and processed locally on a hardware device, rather than relying on a remote server to carry out the spadework — this ensures faster speeds due to lower latency and promotes a more privacy-centric ethos.
Luna’s technology constitutes several components, one of which is next-gen GPS smarts that can pinpoint the scooters to within three centimeters, which is important in terms of managing scooter parking and minimizing sidewalk congestion. But arguably the more interesting technology is its computer vision-powered sensors that enable scooters to detect pedestrians and determine whether a scooter is on a road, sidewalk, or cycle lane, making it easier to enforce local riding restrictions. Read from source….