Last year, while teaching a class on mobility at the Art Center College of Design, Grant Delgatty gave his students the challenge of solving the "last mile" problem in transportation: How could they make it easier for commuters to get from their homes to the subway or the bus, so public transit finally seemed as convenient as driving?
Delgatty, it turned out, had a idea of his own: URB-E, an electric scooter so compact that it can easily squeeze onto a crowded subway car. He partnered with fellow Art Center profs Mateo Neri and Todd Belle to help bring the new product to life. URB-E launched as a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo today.
"It’s for people who don't want to have to pedal and sweat while they're going to work or to a university campus," Neri says. "It's very compact so you can put it anywhere. You can sit down on a train and have it between your legs. We've built them that way, and tested them that way, to make sure they're really solving the last mile problem and not just another electric vehicle."
The seat and supports for the bike fold up neatly so the whole thing can be wheeled around like luggage at an airport. The scooter is so compact, in fact, that the designers decided not to include a lock—when you go inside a building, the scooter comes along.
The battery lasts 20 miles on a charge, and since it’s intended for use along with public transportation, should easily outlast the typical daily commute. But if the scooter needs to be charged, it can be plugged into a standard wall outlet. "People could just go into Starbucks and plug it in," Neri says. The team is also working on preliminary designs for a charger for public spaces.
Though the designers are focused on their consumer launch now, they’re also starting to talk with cities that are considering additional options for bikeshare programs. "We’re not trying to replace bikes, bikes are good," Neri says. "But the beauty of this product is you can fit four or five URB-Es in one bike footprint. That’s a huge amount of space that you’re saving, both on the streets and if you have stations inside of buildings or campuses."
One of the cities that’s particularly interested is Tianjin, a city in China that’s aiming to be 100% sustainable as it grows. China will likely be one of the primary markets for the company, Neri says. "Our ultimate goal isn't necessarily to manufacture and sell here, it's to manufacture and sell there."
In every location where URB-E is sold, the company aims to manufacture locally for those consumers. For the U.S. launch, the team is partnering with Foes Racing, a Pasadena-based company that makes high-end racing bikes by hand. Local manufacturing is part of a larger sustainability strategy; the scooter is also made out of recycled aircraft aluminum.
"We’re trying to build a sustainable company that goes beyond the fact that this is an electric product," Neri says. "We’re using sustainable materials and building a product that’s not going to be thrown away in a year or two, but that will last."