E-scooters provide smart-city data in Dublin

  • August 2, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson
Minister of state at the Department of Transport Hildegarde Naughton with DCU president professor Daire Keogh (right) and head of central public policy at Tier, Jinél Fourie (centre).

A fleet of e-scooters equipped with computer vision to provide smart-city data has been launched in the Irish capital Dublin.

Ireland’s first e-scooter trial has gone live across the five campuses of Dublin City University (DCU). Launched by minister Hildegarde Naughton, this e-scooter research pilot project will involve the collaboration of four organisations: European e-scooter operator Tier; Irish micromobility tech platform Luna; the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics; and Smart DCU, a district of Smart Dublin.

The trial comes in parallel with moves to make e-scooters street-legal across Ireland.

“Ireland is truly leading the way in the space of the use of e-scooters and I very much look forward to seeing this pilot get moving across DCU campuses,” said minister Hildegarde Naughton. “This is an interesting and exciting time in transport; the innovation and momentum are palpable here. It is my job now and the job of government to play our part and progress the necessary legislation required for the safe use of e-scooters in Ireland. I look forward to seeing this pilot progress across campus and I am particularly interested in learning of its outcomes and insights, which I am certain will inform us in further progressing legislation in this space.”

The trial, which has commenced operation on DCU campuses and will operate between campuses once legislation allows, aims to set the bar for e-scooter safety standards in Ireland and worldwide.

As part of the project, Tier and Luna are equipping a fleet of 30 scooters with computer-vision technology, allowing DCU-based Insight researchers to explore a new source of smart-city data. With the Luna technology, Tier e-scooters can run pedestrian detection and lane segmentation algorithms, allowing the vehicles to understand how many people are in their path, as well as preventing vehicles from being used on footpaths.

In addition to being a world first academic-industry research project focused on computer vision in e-scooters, the pilot is also Ireland’s first major structured e-scooter trial. The purpose of the research project is to improve e-scooter safety and explore the smart-city possibilities associated with computer-vision equipped micromobility vehicles and the data they can generate.

The vision data generated by the fleet will be analysed by DCU-based Insight researchers, with a view to identifying smart-city use cases and applications of value to local authorities, in line with the mission of Smart Dublin. The first such use case will be the development of an AI model that can alert cities in real time to blocked footpaths, whether the blockage is the result of a tipped over scooter, a badly parked car, a fallen tree or other impediment.

Separately, Tier and DCU will monitor the modal shift pattern from cars to e-scooters across DCU users, with a focus on reducing the university’s transport-related emissions. Tier will also explore the impact of its Energy Network innovation in terms of driving footfall to local retail outlets as part of a post-Covid economic recovery.

Tier’s model allows users to swap depleted e-scooter batteries in return for free travel at charging stations hosted in local retail outlets. Pilot data from the Energy Network in Finland reveal the average convenience store enjoys an average of €18,000 additional income as a result of Tier users entering to switch batteries.

The pilot project will run until early 2022, and will also explore other insights, particularly around user behaviour and attitudes, which can feed into any commercial shared e-scooter schemes that may be launched in Dublin and elsewhere across Ireland in the future.

“This is such an important research pilot project for Tier in Ireland and we are excited to have launched this trial across the five campuses of Dublin City University,” said Fred Jones, Tier’s regional general manager for northern Europe. “It is an exciting opportunity for detailed research on smart-city applications of e-scooters as well as modal shift, as we partner with Luna and Insight to help the university reduce its carbon footprint and offer more sustainable, safer first and last mile public transport. We hope to apply all project learnings to future Tier operations in Ireland.”

Andrew Fleury, CEO of Luna, added: “Luna is thrilled to be a part of such a significant project that will have future ramifications for shared micromobility across Ireland and the globe.”

He said cities and towns everywhere were looking towards smart technology to help find solutions to some of the operational problems that were holding the scooter industry back from fulfilling its potential.

“The fact that this technology also has the ability to turn scooter fleets into mobile sensor networks, and thereby assist the city across multiple areas from road condition monitoring to street infrastructure mapping, is very exciting for all the project stakeholders,” he said.

Noel O’Connor, CEO of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, said: “This project is a really strong fit for Insight and our mission of conducting high impact research in data analytics to the benefit of the individual, industry and society, through enabling better decision making. The project involves world leading research into the potential smart-city applications of the Luna and Tier camera-as-a-sensor approach to managing shared scooter fleets, and aligns perfectly with the Smart DCU initiative under the auspices of Smart Dublin. We see the project as central to our vision of empowering citizens through smarter societies.”

And Daire Keogh, DCU president, added: “DCU is delighted to facilitate this project across our campus estate, as we strive in partnership with Tier to reduce our carbon footprint through revolutionising the way our community travels to, from and around the university. We are especially pleased that Luna has emerged from our DCU Alpha innovation campus, knowing the support it has received there from DCU staff, as well as peer companies. They say it takes a village to raise a child and similarly it takes an ecosystem to launch a new innovation. The fact that Luna is now engaging directly with the research community based in DCU, connecting the university back into the Smart Dublin initiative of the four local authorities, and bringing industry leaders like Tier into our ambit, is a great validation of our university of enterprise strategy.”