Escooter startup Voi makes use of AI to detect pedestrians and sidewalks

Escooter startup Voi uses AI to detect pedestrians and sidewalks

European electrical scooter startup Voi is popping to synthetic intelligence (AI) to allow its autos to detect pedestrians and sidewalks, a transfer designed to ingratiate itself to municipalities fearful about chaotic micromobility schemes.

Escooter (and ebike) gross sales have surged all through 2020 as vacationers sought alternate options to crowded public transport, however this proliferation serves to stoke present security issues round how they’re used and deployed in busy cities. Voi is now seeking to change into the “first on the earth” to deploy pc imaginative and prescient and on-device AI on scooters, to assist avert collisions and concern alerts if scooters are getting used opposite to native authorized necessities. It’s in the end about utilizing real-time information fairly than guesswork to assist scooters perceive their setting.

“Voi is creating scooters that may ‘see’ what’s round them and subsequently irrefutably ‘know’ what they should do with the intention to be protected, whereas different scooters try to ‘really feel’ what’s round them and use that to ‘guess’ what they need to do subsequent,” Voi CEO Fredrik Hjelm advised VentureBeat.

Based out of Sweden in 2018, Voi is certainly one of a lot of escooter startups that allow residents to obtain a cellular app, discover the closest scooter, and pay for every minute that they want it.

Voi app

Above: Voi app.

The corporate, which operates throughout dozens of cities in Europe, has raised greater than $250 million in VC funding prior to now couple of years and achieved profitability for the primary time this 12 months, bucking a development that has blighted related corporations within the burgeoning micromobility house.

Central to Voi’s mannequin up to now has been working hand-in-hand with native authorities as a part of a partnership, a transfer that has seen it rating unique pilot offers within the U.Ok., which fast-tracked escooter trials again in Might in response to the COVID-19 disaster. One in every of these pilot markets is in Northamptonshire, the place it would take a look at real-time pedestrian detection via a partnership with Irish AI startup Luna.

On Edge

Based out of Dublin in 2019, Luna emerged from Intel’s Edge AI incubator program final 12 months, the place it leveraged Intel’s Movidius Myriad X Imaginative and prescient chip to develop pc imaginative and prescient algorithms aimed squarely at scooters. Edge AI is the place algorithms and the related information are all saved and processed regionally on a {hardware} system, fairly than counting on a distant server to hold out the spadework — this ensures quicker speeds resulting from decrease latency and promotes a extra privacy-centric ethos.

Luna’s expertise constitutes a number of elements, certainly one of which is next-gen GPS smarts that may pinpoint the scooters to inside three centimeters, which is vital when it comes to managing scooter parking and minimizing sidewalk congestion. However arguably the extra attention-grabbing expertise is its pc vision-powered sensors that allow scooters to detect pedestrians and decide whether or not a scooter is on a street, sidewalk, or cycle lane, making it simpler to implement native using restrictions.

Voi isn’t the primary escooter firm to aim this. Earlier this 12 months, Lime introduced plans to thwart sidewalk using via “understanding” the vibration of the underlying floor. However Lime was solely in a position to concern a warning afterward by crunching sensor information gleaned from the speedometer and accelerometer.

Lime is rolling out sidewalk detection

Above: Lime is rolling out sidewalk detection.

Just a few months after this implementation, the Metropolis of San Jose, California issued a report noting that whereas Lime was the one operator to make vital headway in stopping sidewalk riders, its incapacity to detect the exercise in actual time was a serious downside. The council wrote:

Thus far, no operator has developed a scalable and dependable expertise answer to detect sidewalk using in actual time. One operator, Lime, has demonstrated a scalable partial answer, however Lime is just not but in a position to detect sidewalk using in actual time nor sluggish e-scooter speeds on sidewalks. Moreover, the impact of Lime’s proposed method on sidewalk using and pedestrian security is unknown right now.

Thus far, no operator has developed a scalable and dependable expertise answer to scale back escooter speeds to five mph when sidewalk use is detected.

Actual time

That is one thing that Voi needs to handle with its Luna partnership, utilizing pc imaginative and prescient methods to allow real-time floor detection and open the door to extra helpful instruments to maintain scooters away from locations they’re not presupposed to be. That is the place its edge AI really exhibits its value, because it negates the necessity for big bandwidth and compute capabilities: It may “management and govern the scooter” in actual time.

“The Luna and Voi answer makes use of a ‘digicam as a sensor’ alongside lane segmentation AI, just like what you’ll see on a excessive finish automotive,” Luna cofounder and chief enterprise officer Ronan Furlong advised VentureBeat. “This provides us information which is way a lot nearer to ‘floor reality,’ whereas the algorithms might be simply educated for the idiosyncrasies of every particular person metropolis.”

Maybe extra importantly although, Voi and Luna are particularly concentrating on areas the place scooters come into shut proximity to people, not solely detecting pedestrians in actual time however counting them to determine how congested an space is and intervening.

“Voi and Luna shall be creating a collection of alerts, notifications, and attainable interventions, for the needs of enhancing pedestrian and rider security,” Furlong continued. “For instance, the expertise creates the chance for Voi to remotely decelerate scooters whose cameras are detecting a sure variety of pedestrians of their field-of-view and path of journey.”

This integration additionally signifies that Voi should tinker with its scooters to suit the suitable digicam sensors. The preliminary prototype unit is just tethered to high of the scooter, however Luna’s imaginative and prescient module will in the end be built-in immediately into Voi’s linked telematics unit, which means that riders gained’t discover any modifications apart from a small digicam lens.

Above: Luna unit fitted on a Voi.


With demand for clear micromobility sky excessive, this may undoubtedly result in heightened competitors throughout the escooter sphere. Certainly, simply this week, Voi rival Tier introduced that it had raised $250 million in a spherical of funding led by Softbank’s Imaginative and prescient Fund. Tier additionally lately introduced plans to introduce audible alerts to its scooters, designed to alert blind or partially sighted individuals of a scooter’s method.

Whereas its preliminary focus shall be on gathering information for pedestrian detection as a part of the year-long pilot in Northampton, Voi’s technological integration with Luna will play an enormous half in its “upcoming tenders for main metropolis markets” and will show pivotal to profitable them over.

“We’re seeing varied scooter operators scrambling to announce expertise add-ons which purport to unravel the challenges that the trade is dealing with — notably road muddle and sidewalk-riding,” Hjelm stated. “Nevertheless, we view these bulletins as incremental enhancements, fairly than innovation that’s genuinely transferring the dial in respect of security and governance of shared scooters.”

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