This Singaporean startup goes beyond bikes, lets people share electric scooters

This Singaporean startup goes beyond bikes, lets people share electric scooters
Neuron’s electric scooter and its smart charging dock.
PHOTO: Neuron Mobility.

Singapore hasn't been spared from the onslaught of bike-sharing startups, as the colorful multitudes of Obike, Mobike, Ofo, and who knows who else at this point, can attest to.

Local startup Neuron Mobility has a slightly different plan: what if dockless bikes but also, docked electric scooters?

The startup provides both bicycles that work similarly to other companies' but its killer feature is a scooter that's parked at a dedicated grounded dock. Users book both of them through the same mobile app.

Neuron co-founder Zachary Wang is a National University of Singapore alum.

An automotive engineer, he specialised in electric vehicles and tried his hand at startups before - he co-founded residential solar power provider Rezeca Renewables.

But he is passionate about finding ways to help people get around more efficiently. "Mobility is something I've loved since day one," he tells Tech in Asia.

Charging

A bicycle, an electric scooter, a docking station that doubles as a charger for said scooter, and an app comprise Neuron's offering. There's automatic locks, QR codes to unlock them with, a refundable deposit, and a usage fee. So far, so bike-sharing.

The less visible part, which Wang feels is key to the company's purpose, involves a robust data analytics system that helps improve the service in a number of ways.

Neuron can track which areas see more demand for bookings and at what times.

For example, Neuron can track which docks are occupied and which are not, which areas see more demand for bookings and at what times, and even where the scooters and bikes are ridden.

For now, this helps the startup figure out where there's demand for its vehicles and how many of them to deploy.

But in the future, the data could help with more complex features.

One possible scenario could be, say, the system detecting you're riding your scooter outside the range of a charger (which would likely result in the scooter running out of juice and you ditching it in some park somewhere) and taking steps to compel you to stay within range.

Neuron makes use of resources and tools provided by geospatial data company Esri, as part of the latter's Singapore-based startup programme.

US-headquartered Esri makes Geographic Information System technology to create maps out of data, highlighting patterns, relationships, and insights within.

Its support programme, also active in markets like the US, Europe, India, and Japan, gives participating young firms access to tools and resources, including its ArcGIS platform, collectively worth US$181,000 (S$250,540)  for three years. Neuron is the first startup to enter the programme in Singapore.

"We let data drive some of our decisions," Wang says.

"At the end of the day what matters is not what you think people like but what people really like. We let them drive where this leads us in terms of demand and choices."

Neuron also does dockless bikes similar to other bike-sharing startups, but its key differentiator is its docked electric scooter. PHOTO: Neuron Mobility.

Docking procedures

The startup is aware that bike-sharing companies have made docking stations seem antiquated, so its bikes work just like those from Obike, Mobike, and the rest. In the case of the scooters, though, the dock is a vital part of the process.

It doesn't only serve to charge the scooter, it's also a response to an issue that all bike-sharing startups face in Singapore right now: people just dropping the bikes wherever, making them hard to find for other riders or just a plain nuisance.

This could still happen to Neuron's bikes, but it's harder to do with its scooters.

Using the proprietary docking stations for the scooters, Neuron is able to offset that problem, says co-founder Callum McNeill.

The stations are also equipped with their own set of internet-of-things sensors, so that the startup keeps track of the dock's status and its position.

That's the other interesting choice Neuron has made: the docks aren't drilled to the pavement. Rather, they're held down by weights, which means they can be knocked over or dragged away.

The startup says its tech can help alert it if someone tries any funny business with the docks, but it's hard to imagine being able to prevent this at scale.

Thankfully, in super-safe Singapore it's equally hard to imagine anyone trying to damage or steal the docks. But should Neuron target other markets, it will need to account for different behaviours.

Neuron’s electric scooter in its dock. Besides charging the vehicle, the dock gathers all kinds of usage and location data to help improve the service. PHOTO: Neuron Mobility.

Riding toward scale

Neuron raised seed funding about a year ago and now is gearing up for a new round, Wang says. It's going to target between US$1.5 million and US$2 million.

"There's some pretty cool technologies we're developing that we're very excited about. Scalability is also something we're concerned about - I think in the next version we'll address these issues. We're looking at some optimization for the manufacturing process to drive down the cost of this deployment and at the same time developing the next generation of products," he adds.

Neuron is gearing up for a new round of funding.

It's going to need the extra funds going up against the China-born bike-sharing startups active in Singapore.

Mobike just announced it's raised another US$600 million from Tencent, adding to a considerable war chest while it's expanding beyond Asia.

Ofo is backed by Jack Ma's Ant Financial, having raised an undisclosed amount of funding recently.

Wang has helped build electric bikes and even cars before, so could such vehicles be part of Neuron's future as well?

"It's definitely possible but we look at mobility needs," he says.

"There are different ranges and different kinds of needs - you don't generally ride a scooter for 30km, for example. So we don't want to constrain ourselves. I'm very glad that we have a good team to be able to develop different solutions and to really look at what's best for our users," he adds.

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