If you want to read some honest reviews of knee walker scooters, check our recent article. Dockless scooters are starting to dominate the big cities, and it’s no wonder why. They’re easy to use and cheap. This article discusses how they work and if GPS is used in tracking them.
What is a dockless scooter?
The term “dockless scooters” has become more and more popular, with the ascension of the electric scooter into the ranks of transportation methods. These scooters don’t have a home location, and they are picked up and dropped off at any location in their service area. That is unlike the electric bikes sharing system, that implies the bikes being left in a predetermined spot.
The scooter-sharing system is one that implies scooters being made available to be used for short-term rentals. It’s a transportation system similar to the one of carsharing or bicycle-sharing. Some companies offer more than one type of vehicle with the help of their sharing apps.
That being said, the main companies dominating the scooter-sharing market are Bird, the first one that started doing this thing, and Lime. Both of them already cover many cities across the US, and they also reached other countries, especially in Europe.
These companies don’t produce their own scooters, but they buy them from Chinese makers, and they customize them. And they do need to make some changes, from a branding perspective, but also to make the scooters safer for their business.
How do dockless scooters work?
Using these scooters is a simple task. The users need to first download the app (if you want to use a Bird scooter, you’ll be downloading the Bird app), and after they sign in, users can unlock any scooter of that company and use it by the minute. It’s a fast and simple process, if you’re over 18, you have a credit card, and a driver’s license.
Another advantageous thing is that you can simply drop off the scooter when you’re done riding it. That’s the essential part of dockless scooters – you don’t have to get them to their “nest”. That is probably a reason why people ride them more than they ride rental bikes.
The law isn’t clear yet with regards to how these scooters should be operated, and even if in some cities the regulations are clear, people don’t always respect them. For example, some cities demand the rider to wear a helmet, but when you’re in a hurry and you just hop on a scooter to get to your destination faster, you don’t have a helmet with you.
The main idea that these businesses make use of, is that people are respectful enough when using a scooter and when dropping it off. But that is not always the case, especially when regulations aren’t tough enough, or when people simply want to vandalize.
That’s why many people wonder if these scooters are protected or not, and how easily it is to steal one or vandalize it without getting any kind of punishment.
Most of them do
So the question “do rental scooters come with GPS?” appears. And the answer to that is yes, although not all of them. When the companies first started to get dockless scooters onto the streets, they didn’t have the technology implemented, so the scooters themselves didn’t have a GPS, but they relied on the user’s phone to track their location.
So if you wanted to look for a scooter, you needed to keep your GPS location activated, and hope that you can find one near you. Furthermore, the location of the scooters was updated based on the location of the people that had the app. So it was a system that had a lot of latency, and you would sometimes find scooters far away from the location that the app showed you they were in.
Whilst there are some small companies that still use this system, the big players like Bird and Lime have come a long way and they now have a precise GPS system implemented in all of their vehicles.
App users can look on the map and see which scooter is closest to them. They can also see how much battery each scooter has. Furthermore, Bird also launched a program to help cities keep track of where the scooters are. Although the GPS is not 100% precise, it still does a great job and it lets you find the closest scooter to you.
The GPS tracking system is also used for other purposes, mainly for allowing those that charge the scooters to find them. Because these scooters don’t have unlimited battery life, somebody has to charge them, so the companies thought of the simplest solution to that. They use freelancers willing to gather some scooters and get them charged.
Recharging the scooters
So these freelancers charge as many scooters as they can, every night, and they get paid for that. They do have to get the scooters back in their pre-set “nests” before the following day starts. And this whole process comes with some problems too.
The main issue that people who charge the scooters have with the system is that the GPS is not accurate enough. So if you’re a “charger” or a “juicer” as Lime likes to call its charger people, you will sometimes find it very hard to find a place where you can leave the scooters.
The system requires you to be within 16 feet of the precise spot where you have to drop off the scooter; however, the GPS isn’t always precise, so you can find yourself circling a nest for maybe an hour, trying to update the GPS, struggling to find the place where you have to drop the scooter off.
Furthermore, the nests that are closest to you are sometimes already full and you need to leave the scooters that you have charged overnight in a nest that’s miles away. What’s worse, there are people who “hoard” scooters, meaning that they gather them all in a certain spot, attempting to fraud the companies.
Some criminal minds used this hoarding technique to lure chargers into unsafe areas to rob them or worse. That is certainly something that businesses like Lime and Bird didn’t think about, and it’s an issue with the system and the GPS functionality that it incorporates. Uber, on the other hand, has its own service named Jump, and it uses full-time employees for this purpose. That may seem like a better idea.
Can somebody steal a dockless scooter?
As we said, most rental electric scooters come with a GPS that is always connected to the internet, so stealing one is a difficult task. Scooters have a certain range that they can be operated within, and going outside that range will alert the company. Furthermore, most scooters also have some other means of protecting them against theft.
The companies use an automated electric lock that stops the wheels and renders the scooter useless. You can’t ride it without scanning it with the app. You can take it away by carrying it, but why would you want to do that anyway, if it’s not working? Some scooters also come with an alarm that activates in case of a theft attempt.
There are also mechanisms that engage an automatic kill-switch when the electronics are tampered with, or when the scooter loses its power. All of these features should keep the scooters safe, but of course, amateur hackers found a way of bypassing them and they manage to steal some scooters from time to time.
That mainly happens when the companies hit a new city, that’s when theft is the biggest problem. Once people realize that there isn’t much value in the sale of scooter parts, the stealing rates drop.
Are dockless scooters equipped with a GPS system? Yes. Is this system infallible? Not quite, but it’s good enough and it’s getting better and better.