If you want to get a peek at the near future of transportation at CES 2020, skip the autonomous vehicle demos. Self-driving cars are definitely making big strides, but the real revolution — the one that’s already affecting city streets and sidewalks — is all the electrified bikes, scooters, skateboards and other miscellaneous modes of transport that allow you to get around without a car.
Call them what you want: Rideables, last-mile vehicles, micro-mobility solutions — whatever. Every year, the CES show floor is littered with them, and while only a few of them typically make it to consumers and have a meaningful impact on transport, their collective presence at CES is often a bellwether for the future of urban mobility.
So how will we get from A to B in 2020? Based on some early clues from this year’s CES lineup, it seems that micro-mobility might not be so micro in the future. “Last mile” vehicles are going to do a hell of a lot more than ferry you to the nearest bus stop.
The trajectory of personal transport tech
To give you a better sense of where things are headed, here’s a quick recap of the rise of personal mobility tech over the past decade.
The first wave of the rideable tech revolution was what I like to call the prefix generation: The initial burst of electrification in which we basically just added an “E-” to every existing mode of transportation we could think of. E-bikes. E-scooters. E-skateboards. You name it, and there was a startup somewhere busy bolting an electric motor to it.
But simple electrification was just the beginning. As time went on and the rideable tech market became more competitive, the pace of innovation started to pick up. Batteries got better, motors got more powerful, and product designers started pushing the boundaries and making transportation devices that bore no resemblance to anything that came before them. Just look at hoverboards, self-balancing unicycles, and the now infamous Onewheel. These weren’t evolutions of traditional modes of transport — they were totally new and unprecedented.
Then, just as innovation seemed to be reaching a fever pitch, ridesharing came along and changed everything. Companies like Bird and Lime, armed with millions of dollars in venture capital, stuffed cities full of electric scooters that you could rent for just a few bucks per ride instead of buying one outright. Suddenly, actually buying your own mobility device seemed impractical for everyone but the most die-hard users. And now, thanks to this tectonic shift, micro-mobility device makers are once again being forced to innovate to stay competitive.
Stretching the last mile
Earlier this year, during a demo of the new Onewheel Pint electric skateboard, Onewheel’s chief evangelist Jack Mudd said something that stuck with me. “Lots of people call these things ‘last mile vehicles,’” he explained, “but that’s not how we see them. We think of this as an every-mile vehicle.”
Mudd’s sentiment perfectly encapsulates how personal mobility device makers seem to be thinking right now. Increasingly, they aren’t designing vehicles that’ll take you just a couple miles between your house and the nearest bus stop. Why would they when there’s already a pile of rideshare scooters on practically every street corner? Nowadays. the goal seems to be making and selling personal electric vehicles that can legitimately be your main mode of travel in the city — regardless of whether you’re just traveling to the corner store a few blocks away, or commuting to your office on the other side of town.
This is a trend I expect to see a lot more of at CES 2020, and there are already plenty of good examples out in the wild. Segway, the granddaddy of the rideable tech revolution, recently unveiled a new set of Vespa-like e-mopeds and sit-on scooters aimed at urban commuters. Bosch, on the other hand, has an e-bike that it specifically markets as a car replacement for city dwellers. There’s even a handful of electric skateboards that now boast ranges of over 20 miles — more than enough to get you across town a few times.
And those are just the ones we know about already. There’s no telling what we’ll see on the show floor this year, but it’s already pretty clear what we’ll see on the roads in 2020: A menagerie of mobility choices aiming to nix cars from your commute.