Way back 2007, Paris started a large-scale public bicycle sharing system called ‘Velib.’ New York City jumped in on the bandwagon and had the same system in place. But in a city like Paris where 120,000 scooters roam the streets, accounting for 500,000 daily rides, Bertrand Fleurose couldn’t understand why the City of Paris hadn’t even begun working on a programme for shared electric scooters.

EEIOL 2016MAY31 POW NT 06 01 Figure 1: Cityscoot's Alexis Marcadet on scooter

A motorbike enthusiast and a veteran of the industry, Fleurose hatched the notion of bringing a service, providing shared, connected “very intelligent” scooters, to Paris.

He founded Cityscoot three years ago. Cityscoot purchased 50 electric scooters, made by Germany company Govecs. However, it is Cityscoot, not the Germans, making those scooters “very smart,” as Fleurose said, by adding a black box, designed by Cityscoot, to each bike.

The black box enables Cityscoot to book, track and geo-locate, keeping riders safe, and communicating road conditions.

Details about what’s inside the black box, which the company prefers to call a “smart box,” are kept intentionally vague for now.

Nonetheless, in our brief one-on-one interview with Fleurose, we learned that the box includes detectors on the helmet and inside a box on the bike to authenticate that a bike’s helmet is properly and securely stored.

EEIOL 2016MAY31 POW NT 06 02 Figure 2: Sensors are attached both on a helmet and its container.

It also features gyroscopes, accelerometers (to record a rider’s experience and to see if a rider is showing any risky behaviour), and an M2M link so that Cityscoot can keep track of the bike’s whereabouts. Cityscoot, back in the office, gets an automatic alert when an accident or fall happens. No WiFi? No, said Flueurose. The box’s specifications will change over time, he said. But for now, it uses a GSM-based M2M communication link offered by France Telecom’s Orange. The electric scooters are “connected,” not on the Internet but on “Orange’s private network,” according to the CEO. Cityscoot also had discussions with SigFox, French provider of wireless networks, independent of cellular networks, to connect low-energy objects, said Fleurose. “Things could change. But for now, we are sticking to Orange.”

Cityscoot believes that the shared electric scooter service will become widely popular in Paris for several reasons. Shared bicycles and electric vehicles are already broadly used in Paris, but they demand that users “walk and hope” that a bicycle is there for them to use. They have to book in advance for the use of an electric vehicle. In contrast, with shared electric scooters, it’s easy for people to “pick up an electric scooter everywhere and park anywhere,” said Fleurose.

Unlike San Francisco, where a city must create a special lot where electric scooters get picked up and parked, “there is far more parking space set aside in Paris for two-wheelers,” said Fleurose. Also, electric scooters can be parked free in an automotive parking space in Paris. “Not many people are aware of this even in Paris, but it’s free because the vehicle is electric.”

EEIOL 2016MAY31 POW NT 06 03 Figure 3: Unlike other cities, Paris offers far more parking space for motor bikes and scooters.

As in big cities around the world, Paris traffic frustrates everyone, said Fleurose. “Of course, walking and bicycling is always much better, but still, our electric scooter is smart and fast.” Today, Cityscoot is in what the company calls “Phase A.” Hundreds of volunteers are testing-scooting 50 smart electric bikes all over the centre of Paris, taking roughly 10,000 rides a day.

Series A funding to close Cityscoot, privately funded by Fleurose and several colleagues, will complete its Series A funding “in a couple of weeks,” according to the CEO. With that infusion, Cityscoot should be able to officially launch the service before the end of June. “That’s when we unveil other details of our service including pricing,” explained Vincent Bustarret, chief marketing officer.

EEIOL 2016MAY31 POW NT 06 04 Figure 4: CEO Bertrand Fleurose (left), and CMO Vincent Bustarret, who left Parrot to join Cityscoot last year.

Asked about usage fees, Bustrarret said that it would be charged “by the minute.”

At the launch, the company is getting ready to make 150 scooters available. The CEO said, “We expect to have thousands of users to use our service in 2016, for tens of thousands of rides per day.”

In 2017, the start-up is hoping to hit million riders per day, with 1,000 electric scooters available. Noting that “already 20,000 people are on the waiting list,” Fleurose said that a million a day in 2017 is not an unreasonable number.

Does Cityscoot worry about its connected scooters getting hacked by hackers? “Not at the moment,” said Fleurose. “We are taking certain precautions. We may beef it up further. But for now, Orange tells us that they’re protecting our communication links.”

Does Cityscoot expect to make its own smart scooter? “No,” said the CEO. “We see ourselves as purely a service company.”

Obviously the big advantage of having a network of connected electric scooters throughout Paris is that you gain a lot of data generated by your bikes, users and rides. What are you going to do with that big data?

“We haven’t decided yet,” said the CEO. Some information can be obviously shared with the city of Paris to fix potholes, indicating accident prone intersections, while users could get some specific information on Cityscoot’s mobile app, not only about the availability of scooters, but also road conditions under certain weather, for example.

Manufacturers of scooters could potentially use data gained by Cityscoot’s service to improve the performance of their models. “That ‘big data’ potential is there. Our investors get it. But we haven’t decided how we are going to use it,” Fleurose added.

EEIOL 2016MAY31 POW NT 06 05 Figure 5: Shared bicycles are enormously popular in Paris. Here, you find no Velib public bicycle at designated parking space.