Game time for sidewalk tech as Chicago puts Pedestrian Defense to the urban canyon test
The City of Chicago’s 2021 pilot scooter program evaluation included a startling failure:
…scooter vendors committed to bringing sidewalk riding detection technology to demonstrate in the city. However, no vendors ultimately deployed this technology.
Now, with its pilot poised to become permanent, Chicago is putting potential operators to the test.
Finding a proven solution for big cities
It’s no surprise that big cities with high pedestrian traffic are leading the way in holding micromobility operators accountable for prioritizing pedestrian safety. What’s interesting is that big cities are also the most challenging setting to make sidewalk detection technology work due to the “urban canyon effect” of tall buildings blocking the GPS signals that scooters typically rely on to know their position.
In 2021, Superpedestrian unveiled a proprietary on-board safety platform called Pedestrian Defense. Unlike other sidewalk detection technologies that use small cameras retrofitted to the scooter, Pedestrian Defense is deeply integrated into the scooter itself. This deep integration enables not just the detection of sidewalk riding, but real time correction and prevention of sidewalk riding– slowing and bringing the scooter to a safe stop. Further distinguishing Pedestrian Defense is its ability to recognize and redress a much wider array of unsafe behaviors like aggressive swerving, hard braking, and riding the wrong way on a one-way street.
Proving Pedestrian Defense on Chicago streets
In December, Superpedestrian invited an audience of city officials and local elected and community leaders to join us in Chicago Loop for a demonstration of Pedestrian Defense. The Loop was chosen as an ideal proving ground because it poses the greatest challenges with skyscraper lined streets and dense pedestrian traffic.
Our test rider came up the street on our integrated Pedestrian Defense scooter and pulled up onto the sidewalk. As the scooter crossed onto the sidewalk, the LED indicator on the handlebar turned from green to flashing red, the scooter started beeping, and within a few feet the scooter automatically came to a stop. Our test rider demonstrated how the scooter would only become rideable again after walking the scooter back to the street.
Ben Segal, Superpedestrian’s Director of Research and Development was pleased with the demonstration, saying, “Not only did we prove that our scooter can detect if it crosses onto a sidewalk, but we proved that the system automatically does something about it, bringing the scooter to a slow stop in real time.”
Flexibility, Data-Driven Safety and The Street Ahead
Not all cities want strict enforcement. Some cities with lighter pedestrian volumes and underdeveloped bike lane networks merely want to slow scooters on the sidewalk, or to give riders a warning. Others are opting for a hybrid approach, asking for more stringent interventions in their downtown cores, with only rider alerts and education for outlying areas. The beauty of Pedestrian Defense is its ability to accommodate different urban contexts, providing solutions that match local conditions and politics.
Across cities, we’re finding a common interest in Pedestrian Defense’s ability to furnish data that improves rider education and infrastructure engineering. Our post-ride Safety Rating, for example, where riders receive specific feedback and custom incentives informed by their actual ride history, represents a huge improvement over generic safety messaging. We’ll also be able to see in the data areas on city streets where otherwise rule-abiding riders behave in ways that suggest the need for infrastructure improvements or street management. For example, we may detect a series of hard brakes or swerves at an intersection that would benefit from daylighting.
As Superpedestrian rolls out Pedestrian Defense to the first cohort of cities, we will announce more features that further aid efforts to improve the impact of rider education and engineering. Until then, all eyes are on enforcement capabilities as cities put the sector to the test. Is any operator capable of meeting the sidewalk challenge? For Superpedestrian, the answer is a resounding yes.
If you represent a city interested in learning more about Pedestrian Defense and how it can be deployed to further your safety and sustainability goals, please contact [email protected]