UCL team to develop universal sound for e-scooters to boost road safety

2 Feb 2022

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Tier, Lime and Dott have joined UCL researchers to create a sound for e-scooters, in the hopes of setting an industry standard.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have teamed up with three micromobility companies to develop a universal sound for e-scooters to alert pedestrians and road users as these vehicles approach.

The research is scheduled to begin this month at UCL’s Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory (PEARL), building on the existing work of e-scooter operators Tier, Lime and Dott.

The goal is to develop a universal sound that could help improve safety across the entire e-scooter industry, helping other road users and particularly people with sight loss to identify a nearby e-scooter regardless of its operator.

The project is taking into account the needs of individuals with sight loss, hearing loss and neurodiverse conditions, following engagement with disability experts and access consultants from groups such as Transport for All, Thomas Pocklington Trust and the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

“We plan to test a range of combinations of sounds and environments at UCL PEARL with people who are less likely to detect e-scooters nearby, so that we create a sound that works for all,” Prof Nick Tyler of UCL said.

“It is a huge scientific challenge, but one that will enable everyone to feel comfortable with this new form of micromobility that is quickly growing in popularity.”

The sound will be tested at PEARL’s research facility, which can create different city environments, before being tested on London streets later this year to ensure it works in real-world settings. If successful, the new sound could become an industry standard and deployed in other cities.

Thomas Pocklington Trust’s national public affairs lead, Mike Bell, said: “We want to make sure this sound is effective in real city environments, and so we are thrilled to be working closely with UCL and Tier as it is developed and rolled out, to help make a real difference to visually impaired people in London and across the country.”

E-scooter operators have been taking steps to improve road safety and there have been several recent initiatives in Ireland.

Last year, Dott established an Irish Safety Advisory Board to improve its e-scooter services for visually impaired road users, while a trial at Dublin City University was studying how AI and computer-vision tech could improve safety for both users and pedestrians.

In October, Irish micromobility company Zipp Mobility and University College Dublin announced a similar project to UCL, testing prototypes such as noisemaking and lighting features to ensure the vehicles can be seen and heard more clearly.

Zipp, Tier, Lime and Dott are just a few of the micromobility players that have their eyes on the Irish market pending the passing of long-awaited e-scooter legislation.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic