Beam banks on safety: Can tech make e-scooters safer?
Local start-up says technology makes PMDs safer and wants a chance to prove its track record here
Local start-up Beam raised $8.8 million in October last year, and hoped to deploy shared e-scooters in Singapore.
A year later, it has tied up with some hotels here, and has also deployed 2,000 of these personal mobility devices (PMDs) in Kuala Lumpur, Adelaide, Christchurch and Seoul.
But plans for a public PMD sharing service in Singapore have not materialised.
The company is still hopeful despite accidents, fires and complaints about e-scooters from pedestrians and politicians.
Beam's co-founder and chief technology officer Deb Gangopadhyay, 30, told The New Paper last month that the company had not expected PMDs to become such a hot button issue.
In particular, the death of a cyclist, Madam Ong Bee Eng, after an accident involving a PMD in September, has given the authorities pause.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) again delayed the issuance of public PMD-sharing licenses, and the Government is now reviewing its PMD policies.
But Mr Gangopadhyay believes technology can prevent reckless riding, a big reason behind calls for a ban.
He said: "We actually like being regulated. We think the regulations add a lot of value...
"(Madam Ong's) death was a complete violation of the regulations. It was a bigger PMD and someone was speeding. That's impossible on our e-scooters."
Citing Beam's own record abroad, Mr Gangopadhyay said PMDs in a sharing system with technology are much safer.
He said there has been only one minor hospitalisation in all of Beam's operations so far.
Operators can control speeds, and by leveraging data, monitor user behaviour.
"We can control how fast you go. Because the braking is dual electric-mechanical, we also know how fast someone is braking," he said.
There is also geo-fencing, which Beam has adopted in its Adelaide operations, designating "no-ride" and "slow" zones for areas with high foot traffic.
Said Mr Gangopadhyay: "If our rider goes into this very high foot traffic area, the device slows to a stop and the rider is guided to leave."
While experts agreed that technology could improve PMD safety, they were cagey over the issue of PMD-sharing licenses.
Nanyang Technological University transport economist Michael Li said LTA must have concerns about safety, speed regulation and user behaviour for it to delay the issuing of PMD-sharing licenses again.
"To make this work, we definitely need a technological solution. The (question) is at what expense," Associate Professor Li told TNP.
"You can develop very sophisticated geo-fencing, monitor speed and behaviour. You can even have a sensor to detect distance to pedestrians."
National University of Singapore transport infrastructure expert, Raymond Ong, said the authorities will have control over centrally managed fleets as operators have to ensure their equipment meet legal specifications, like the UL2272 fire safety certification.
But PMD-sharing is not something they should say yes to immediately, and there would have to be trials on a very limited scale, before slowly expanding from there, he said.
Beam's regional director of corporate affairs Isabelle Neo said operators have not been given the chance to prove their track record here.
She added: "We have from the onset said we care deeply about pedestrian and vehicle safety. So if given a chance, we want to prove it."