Bird Unveils Cutting Edge “Smart Sidewalk Protection” Powered by u-blox

Preventing shared scooters from operating on city sidewalks is an important and incredibly difficult challenge—one that Bird’s engineering team has been working to resolve since 2019.

Now, together with an industry leader in GPS/GNSS positioning, we’re unveiling a new, high-tech “Smart Sidewalk Protection” system to help solve it.

The Path to Smart Sidewalk Protection

The process of preventing sidewalk riding requires, among other things:

  • Hyper-accurate locations of moving vehicles
  • Precise sidewalk measurements
  • Immediate enforcement
  • Scalability

As you might expect, ticking all of these boxes isn’t easy. 

For starters, GPS data in cities can be notoriously inaccurate due to the “urban canyon” effect, or signal interference from tall buildings. Precise sidewalk measurements can be equally onerous due to things like GIS lens distortion, image warping and even tectonic plate movements.

Any proposed solution must be able to work in hundreds of different city environments across the globe and be rolled out with minimal cost and labor while maintaining accuracy over time.

To solve this complex riddle, Bird turned to the GPS/GNSS positioning experts at u-blox, a Swiss-born tech company. With their industry leading experience in wireless communication and positioning technology, we were able to collaborate and jointly develop the world’s first end to end, high-precision positioning solution designed to deliver centimeter-level accuracy specifically for the micromobility use case. 

Here’s how it works.

Revolutionizing Sidewalk Protection With a Module

Bird’s solution starts with a sensor-fusion module capable of combining multiple data streams into a single, highly accurate location measurement.

The u-blox ZED-F9R is a high-precision, dead reckoning module that fuses GNSS and sensor data and delivers centimeter-level location information in any condition. This allows for the system to monitor if the e-scooter is on the sidewalk and other indications of unsafe operation. Utilizing Bird data, the companies co-developed a unique version of the ZED-F9R module tailored specifically to meet the needs of the shared micromobility industry.

The ZED-F9R is a dual-band multi-constellation GNSS receiver that supports up to 8 times more satellite signal types and 4 times more constellations (GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, and BeiDou) than standard solutions. The module processes real-time vehicle data including wheel speed, IMU sensor data including acceleration and spatial orientation, and real-time kinematic data that corrects for ionospheric interference. The technology is also optimized for e-scooters by applying dynamic models matching the movements of the vehicle. 

The end result is a centimeter level precise system that’s far more accurate than traditional GPS receivers that deliver meter level accuracies, powered by a module that can easily be built into our vehicles and doesn’t require additional external hardware. 

“We are very excited about this collaboration between u-blox and Bird,” said Alex Ngi, Product Manager Positioning at u-blox. “Our centimeter-level precise GNSS positioning technology will now be implemented in the expanding micromobility industry, strengthening our contribution to a safer and more ecological world.”

Centimeter-Level Sidewalk Mapping

To turn this high-powered, sensor-fusion module into a revolutionary Smart Sidewalk Protection system, Bird developed a 5-step process for creating high-precision sidewalk maps down to the centimeter. 

How do we do it?

Step 1: It starts with a geofence outline constructed from satellite imagery or city GIS data.

Step 2: From here, we use surveying equipment to measure the location of three city landmarks. Only a few measurements are needed for each city. 

Step 3: Once the landmarks have been identified, we compare their location to the satellite imagery to determine offsets and rotations.

Step 4: We then use these offsets and rotation values to shift and transform each of our original geofence outlines.

Step 5: Finally, after our geofence outlines have been updated, they are pre-loaded onto our vehicles to eliminate latency.

When combined with the hyper-accurate location measurements provided by our sensor-fusion module, Bird is able to detect and respond to sidewalk riding almost instantly.

Riders traveling on a sidewalk receive both an audible alert as well as a mobile notification, and the vehicle is brought safely and smoothly to a stop by removing throttle. 

A Built-In Solution to Sidewalk Safety

Critically, both the co-developed sensor-fusion u-blox module and our precision sidewalk map data are integrated directly into our newest scooters. 

This key differentiator means that our Smart Sidewalk Protection system can be implemented at scale without risk of damage caused by weather or vandalism, unlike expensive, externally mounted cameras. 

The micromobility module is currently being piloted in Milwaukee and San Diego. Madrid will be our first pilot city in EMEA, with plans for a broader roll out slated for 2022. To learn more about our ongoing efforts to lead the micromobility industry in compliance technologies, subscribe to the Bird Cities Blog.