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Another business model that the team has looked at is the Zip Car rental system.

Zip Car is a rental service based on a two-way model: customers have to return the car to the same location from which they picked it up. They also have to reserve cars online in advance.

The MIT team says that the Zip Car two-way model is great for neighborhoods where people have to boomerang in and out to run errands. But in a dense city starved for parking, the MIT designers see great virtue in their one-way system, which lets people move from spot to spot without returning to their point of origin. In the ideal City Car scheme, vehicles can be rented from one rack and returned to another.

Still, Robin Chase, the founder and former CEO of Zip Car, has some reservations about the MIT group’s system. She says that she’s worried about logistical and operational problems, such as the even distribution of vehicles. With a one-way model, too many could wind up in one location. The company must then pay for trucks to redistribute the cars or scooters throughout the city.

Chase adds that when she was with Zip Car, she noticed that customers were reluctant to adopt new technologies. “Our electric car was our least rented vehicle,” she says. “People didn’t seem to trust the technology.”

The MIT team is not deterred. It’s looking at Taipei as an ideal location in which to roll out the electric scooter, which was developed in partnership with SYM, a major Taiwanese scooter manufacturer. “Taipei is teeming with scooters,” says Ryan Chin, a designer with the Smart Cities group.

Currently, there are nearly as many scooters in Taiwan as there are people. During a typical rush hour, traffic lanes overflow, and riders wear surgical masks to filter the pollution from exhaust. Some three million scooters lie abandoned throughout the country.

“If a shared scooter is used by 10 different people a day, you’ll reduce the number of scooters on the road by half,” Chin says.

With a successful run at the Milan motorcycle show, Chin says that his group’s 50-kilogram scooter could be mass-produced and deployed within three years.

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Credit: Franco Vairani (top), Peter Schmitt (bottom)

Tagged: Computing, software, MIT, electric cars, electric vehicle, automobiles

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