PLAN 70: Article
Introducing The Cuter Scooter

Media Lab Invention Scores a Hit at Milan Motor Show

A folding electric scooter developed by the Smart Cities Group at the Media Lab was a hit at Milan's Motor Show last fall, along with a proposal to make the scooters available for short-term rentals at convenient city locations like subway stops and convenience stores. It was also recently cited as one of the great inventions of the year by the French magazine Le Point.

The RoboScooter—affectionately known as 'the cuter scooter'—was developed under the direction of Bill Mitchell, head of MIT's Design Laboratory, in response to the growing congestion in cities and to booming auto sales that threaten to jam the streets and pollute the air still further.

Taking their lead from origami and existing folding bicycles, the Smart Cities team addressed the problem by designing a clean, green, silent scooter that can be folded in half and towed like a rolling suitcase—easy to take on trains, or indoors—or stacked in a rack for storage and battery charging.

Users could swipe a credit card to remove a scooter from the rack (which charges up the batteries), unfold it for the trip and then fold it up again to deposit at another rack at the destination. Computers would track scooter pick-ups and drop-offs to keep the system running smoothly; each scooter would show its location with a built-in GPS unit.

The viability of the one-way-rental business model has been demonstrated in Paris where a company has recently started a similar service with bicycles—a program so successful that the city is doubling the number of cycles and stacks. It is estimated that the proposed scooter system could cut the need for scooter parking in Taiwan by as much as 80%.

The multigenerational, cross-disciplinary team of designers included a core group of four graduate students along with several others who made contributions, and a group of MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program students. They completed the entire project in only eight months, from blank sheet to built concept.

The team now plans to develop the prototype further with two different production models. One will be a refinement of the folding scooter introduced in Milan, and the other will be an even simpler model, without the folding capability, to be produced for regions where low cost is most important and space restrictions are not as crucial.

RoboScooter was created in collaboration with SYM, a major scooter manufacturer in Taiwan, and with ITRI, Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute. SYM recently announced its intention to take the scooter into mass production.