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Is Uber planning to put its self-driving tech into bikes and scooters?

Uber is setting up a new robotics unit apparently aimed at incorporating autonomous technology into its rental bicycles and scooters.

The company is already developing a driverless car, but the new “Micromobility Robotics” unit will explore ways to enhance aspects of its bike and scootersharing services, TechCrunch reported.

The revelation came via a DIY Robocars meet-up in California over the weekend, where it was learned that the new unit will exist as a part of Jump, the bike and scootersharing company that Uber acquired in 2018.

Such app-based services let you rent bikes and scooters for trips across town, with charges made by the minute. While some require the rider to leave the vehicle in a designated parking zone, others, such as Jump, are dockless, meaning you can leave them pretty much anywhere. A costly element of the operation comes from the effort it takes to ensure the electric bikes and scooters maintain fully charged batteries, and are left in locations that are easily reachable by subsequent riders.

While Uber is yet to confirm the specific aims of its Micromobility Robotics unit, multiple reports suggest it may be exploring the idea of building self-driving bikes and scooters that travel to riders who summon them using the app, or that automatically return to depots to have their batteries recharged.

Safety focus?

If the idea of numerous bicycles and scooters trundling about town by themselves sounds far-fetched, then it’s also possible that the company is looking at ways to use autonomous technology to improve the safety of its two-wheelers. This could involve fitting its electric two-wheelers with obstacle avoidance sensors to reduce the chances of accidents.

Mobility services have come under the spotlight recently after a number of users were injured or killed in accidents involving pedestrians or cars. As recently as January 18, a woman in New Zealand riding a Lime electric scooter was hospitalized with serious injuries after colliding with a truck in the New Zealand city of Dunedin. Details of the accident aren’t yet clear.

Uber building an “urban mobility platform”

Uber’s growing interest in taking its business beyond car-based ridesharing is part of the company’s strategy to build what its CEO describes as an “urban mobility platform.”

Dara Khosrowshahi said in August 2018 that two-wheelers are better suited to inner-city travel than large cars — especially during rush hour — as it’s “very inefficient for a one-ton hulk of metal to take one person 10 blocks.”

Uber’s plan mirrors similar moves made by rival ridesharing company Lyft, and include a string of big investments in the market and the recent launch of its own app-based scooter service.

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