Bird is rolling out to New York and Berlin this summer a next-generation scooter with a bigger, longer-range battery and a diagnostic monitoring system, as the micromobility startup seeks ways to improve its margins and ultimately become profitable.
The Bird Three, which is already available in Tel Aviv, is designed to last longer and require less maintenance as well as improve comfort and safety for customers, according to the company. The launch comes just a week after Bird announced a merger with special-purpose acquisition company Switchback II. The regulatory filings that accompanied the announcement demonstrate just how difficult it is to turn a profit given the unit economics of shared scooters.
The cost of building and servicing vehicles is one of the biggest barriers to profitability, which explains why Bird has invested in developing a scooter with a longer-lasting vehicle and battery as well as the software needed to monitor the device's health.
Bird writes its own proprietary operating system, called Bird OS, as well as its motor controller IoT system, according to Scott Rushforth, Bird's chief vehicle officer. The self-diagnostics system allows the battery to communicate with the backend and internally within the connected vehicle network. That means if, for example, the machine gets too warm, it'll send the server an alert and will also automatically correct itself by riding at a slower speed to keep cool.
"There's tons of health monitoring and data that comes off the battery," Rushforth told TechCrunch. "Every individual cell is monitored. There's probably about 75 different diagnostics that we track within the battery system itself."
Superpedestrian, which recently lost a bid for New York City's first e-scooter pilot to Bird, Lime and Veo, has touted its self-diagnostics software and in-house written OS as one of its USPs for years. The company boasts that its LINK scooters, which are powered by its Vehicle Intelligent Safety (VIS) system, run 1,000 vehicle health checks every second a ride is taking place, checking for things like battery cell temperature imbalances, water penetration and brake issues.
Bird's batteries are encased in "hermetically sealed, tamper-proof, industry-leading IP68-rated protection to keep [them] safe from dust, water and theft," according to the company, which also claims the battery on the Bird Three is the largest in the industry at 1kWh capacity. Superpedestrian, a company that shares Bird's aversion to swappable batteries, has just about the same battery capacity at .986kWh, according to a spokesperson for the company. Lime, Bird's biggest competitor, has gone the small, swappable battery route, and thus its battery capacity is .460kWh, according to a Lime spokesperson.
Lime and other companies that use swappable batteries argue this strategy generates less emissions because the scooters can be serviced by employees or gig economy workers on e-bikes. Scooters have traditionally been rounded up, charged and then redistributed to public streets by gig economy workers driving around in gas-powered vans.
With its latest scooter, Bird is doubling down on the big, static battery strategy.
"The battery is so big that we don't really need to charge it very often, and it can go 15,000 to 20,000 miles before it has any type of serviceability event," said Rushforth, who noted in major markets, Bird's scooters are being charged roughly once a week. "We spend less time charging, less time rebalancing, less time going out and having to do maintenance and chase these vehicles around, which means we're actually using less cars than you would generally when you have swappable batteries and have to go out all the time to swap them."
So far it's not clear which strategy is the most eco-friendly, but a sustainable scooter isn't all about the battery. Rushforth says the Bird Three is designed to last 24 to 36 months on the street.
"We're trying to make the most green vehicle in the world, and to accomplish that, the system needs to be extremely durable," he said. "As long as the vehicles last longer, we need less vehicles overall."
Because Bird Three is built on the same platform as Bird Two, many of the parts are the same, which makes it easier to reduce, reuse and recycle at the end of the vehicle's life. Once a battery reaches the end of its life, Bird turns it over to partners like ITAP to be responsibly recycled.
Other updates on the Bird Three revolve around comfortability and safety, including a new braking system with front and rear brakes and an automatic emergency braking that detects a fault in the mechanical braking system and digitally stops the vehicle using the motor.
Rushforth also noted that the vehicle ergonomics feel sturdier, with a longer wheelbase, wider handlebars and antimicrobial grips. The Bird Three has a new headlight and taillight that are globally certified so they can be used in places like Germany where scooters have more stringent requirements -- just in time for Bird to expand outward into Europe.