Over the past year, scooters have become a political minefield in some cities where the devices’ ubiquity on sidewalks are blocking access to pedestrians, baby strollers, and people with disabilities. Bad parking jobs and misuse has made these vehicles the object of rage in cities like San Francisco. A geolocation company called Fantasmo is proposing a novel solution to this particular problem: Augmented reality.
The idea stems from the current problems with scooter parking. If scooter startups like Lime, Scoot, or Bird knew exactly where their users were leaving scooters on city streets, they could accurately enforce parking rules and keep sidewalks clear–for instance, by forcing a rider to move their scooter to the correct parking spot before the system ends their ride. The problem is that scooters’ built-in GPS isn’t accurate enough to pinpoint locations that precisely–so scooter companies can’t enforce parking policies effectively.
Instead of using GPS, Fantasmo is using something called “Camera Positioning Standard.” CPS, which the company is developing as an open standard that it views as the successor to GPS for far more than scooter parking, uses a digital camera and artificial intelligence to discover the world around it, akin to the way self-driving cars or augmented reality games “see.” Using this tech, Fantasmo can match the surroundings of the scooter with the company’s 3D map databases, triangulating its precise position on the street using the visual cues around it. You can see how accurate this tracking is in this demonstration video:
“Our CPS solution provides the ability to find the position of a scooter accurately enough to know if a scooter is being ridden legally on the street or illegally on a sidewalk,” cofounder Jameson Detweiler writes on Medium. “This creates a better experience for everyone. Cities will have a wider variety of more sustainable mobility options. They will also have better intelligence about what is happening in the city. Riders and chargers will be able to find their scooters much faster. Scooter companies will have a better understanding of the location of their fleets, reduce losses, and, most importantly, provide the optimal scooter experience for riders, non-riders, and cities alike.”
Scooter companies must find a way to force riders to abide by parking and sidewalk laws if they want to continue operating in many cities; some cities like Beverly Hills, are already moving to ban the devices, and in cities like New York, scooters are preemptively illegal. In Los Angeles, the city has moved to limit them, just like San Francisco after months of debate. In European cities like Madrid, where these vehicle companies disembarked last summer to operate without regulation, they have been strictly limited (even though the police aren’t really enforcing these limitations or punishing violators). And unfortunately, parking is just one of many design problems these companies must tackle–in addition to accidents, data privacy issues, and pedestrian rights.