When Bird Chief Vehicle Officer Scott Rushforth and his team set out to create the longest lasting, most sustainable electric scooter, they turned to two unlikely sources of inspiration.
“Retail scooters were never designed to last multiple years,” Rushforth explained. “Planes and cars, on the other hand, can be parked and driven in the elements for ten, twenty, even thirty years with relatively minimal maintenance and still perform reliably well over time.”
So why is that? Considering the fact that manufacturing accounts for roughly 66% of e-scooter emissions overall, closing this significant gap in vehicle life expectancy is crucial to improving the sustainability of the micromobility industry as a whole.
According to Rushforth, there is no single “silver bullet” that makes one vehicle more durable than another. Instead, it ultimately comes down to a pair of processes that those in the transportation industry know particularly well: testing and iteration.
“The engineers and designers that developed Bird Two come largely from an automotive and aerospace background where every component has to be rigorously tested,” explained Rushforth. “Using this combined experience, we came up with a 250-step Design Validation Process (DVP) that pushes our vehicles well beyond any current industry or competitor standard.”
Bird’s CVO points to a specific criterion developed by his team as an example. For a shared scooter to last a minimum of two years, they posited, the joint connecting its chassis to its stem shaft needed to be able to withstand 60k curbside impacts.
You read that correctly: 60,000 impacts.
The team spent months developing a custom bearing stack capable of withstanding such abuse. When it was completed, they turned to an external lab to help build a specialized jig that would perform the tests.
“A few days after Bird Two successfully completed the 60,000 impacts, we received a call from the lab,” said Rushforth, who had requested that the testing continue until the joint finally failed. “‘Congratulations,’ they told me, ‘you broke our machine.’”
This is just one in a series of enhancements that have been thought up by automotive and aerospace experts to dramatically increase Bird Two’s life expectancy. All of the scooter’s connectors are now automotive-grade, protecting its sensitive internal wiring from the moisture and salt corrosion that often damage other models. When Rushforth and his team wanted to equip the Bird Two with a smoother, self-sealing pneumatic tire, they worked with a car company to develop one with an internal fluid that prevents it from going flat if punctured.
Of course, not all of the upgrades come from planes and cars. Some of Bird Two’s custom features were built to respond to challenges unique to the micromobility industry, including a waterproof, high-capacity battery with a 50% extended range. Because battery packs in general have a comparatively high carbon footprint, these have been specifically designed to be both durable and reusable. This allows Bird Two batteries to be easily mated to a fresh chassis during their 14,000 mile lifespan instead of being prematurely torn down for recycling.
“Our teams are developing best in class efficiency EV powertrains to get the most from our fleets with the least energy throughput,” said David Tenhouten, Bird’s Sr. Director of Engineering. “This is what allows our Bird Two scooter to use just 27 watt-hours per mile, which translates to more than 1000 eMPG equivalent fuel economy.”
For comparison, some of the highest-selling electric car models use around 300 watt hours per mile.
As the global measures taken to combat the spread of COVID-19 continue to highlight the health and environmental benefits of cities without cars, more attention is rightfully being paid to the need for sustainable modes of urban transportation. Micromobility already has the inherent advantage of being less material mass intensive than cars, but that alone is not enough.
Bird engineers are working to create transportation solutions that are focused directly on sustainability. Thanks to their dozens of years of combined experience in the automotive and aerospace industries, Scott and our vehicle team are taking the best of the established motor vehicle world and using it to radically improve the durability and sustainability of shared electric scooters.
The Bird Two is a significant step in the right direction. And it’s just the beginning.