When building an intelligent, connected scooter, there are various decisions around connectivity to be made - do you add Bluetooth, WiFi, Cellular or all of them? The product team was faced with this exact conundrum when putting down the requirements for connectivity on the Ather 450. Here, I catch up with Chaitanya Hegde (@chaitanya.hegde), Product Manager, Software & Intelligence to chat about some of the tech behind connectivity in a smart scooter.
Chaitanya Hegde works on building and improving software and smart features for the Ather 450 and future Ather platforms. When not working, he likes to quiz, consume a lot of pop-culture and try to play the carnatic flute.
First off, why mobile networks over Bluetooth/WiFi?
Mobile networks emerged as the unanimous choice, simply for the seamless experience it provides. Bluetooth and WiFi are both meant to connect two devices together. Mobile networks connect the scooter directly to the internet, thereby reducing dependencies on other devices.
Why not the obvious choice? While Bluetooth and Wi-Fi seem like the obvious choices in terms of long term cost and compatibility, they are heavily dependent on environmental factors and the rider. Bluetooth has a very short range, often out of reach when your scooter is in a parking lot. The data transfer rates over Bluetooth are also slow, which would influence how seamless the navigation and intelligence are on your scooter.
Mobile networks were a no-brainer in this regard. It solves the need for you to connect to your scooter each time you want to use it, and provides near seamless connectivity throughout the city without impacting your other gadgets. Since the 450 is designed for urban commute, it’s very rare to run into areas where network coverage is poor in a city. It also lets you forget about connectivity and focus on the riding experience. Besides, using your phone while riding to fix your navigation or check the time to reach your destination is never a good practice.
With mobile networks we’re able to offer a much better experience with these features:
- Push location to scooter and have navigation waiting for you when you are ready to ride
- Find the last location of the scooter and track your rides
- Get the real-time charge levels of the scooter
- Preventive maintenance and real time reporting of issus
- Use the smart features on the 450 independent of any mobile device
Wi-Fi is no walk in the park either. Without internet connectivity, Wi-Fi behaves just like Bluetooth but with longer range. To do anything useful with WiFi, you’ll have to connect to a network with an internet connection. This introduces other variables into this experience including finding reliable WiFi hotspots, battery drain on your phone if you choose to create a WiFi hotspot and many more. It’s also hard to make sure there is sufficient Wi-Fi coverage in your parking lot, especially in a basement.
Why not 4G or 5G?
Picking components in the auto industry is a very complicated process, that requires OEMs like Ather to plan for several years in advance. The vehicle concept and specifications were developed back in 2014, when 3G was the standard. Being a new player in the industry, getting hands on the latest tech requires commitments of incredible volume, which was not possible then. Now, 4G and 5G are being actively explored for newer versions coming in the future.
Noise & barriers
Supply chain and production being one roadblock, the other question is if you really do need 4G or 5G. Both are built for low latency applications and high bandwidth usage. A smart scooter does not really need that level of connectivity, since the 450 is not autonomous. 4G works great for video streaming, real time communication and mission critical applications.
After lots of research and testing, it was found that smart features and navigation require about 50-100kB/s, for which even 2G would work, albeit a poor experience, with long load times etc.
Can you upgrade the existing scooters to 4G/5G?
There is a lot of work happening in figuring out different solutions for this. Looking at the landscape now, 3G isn’t going away anytime soon for the next few years at least, so scooters on the road will not face will not have any impact. The dashboard in the 450 is an integrated dashboard, so changing the factory installed SIM from 3G to 4G won’t suffice as an upgrade. It will involve a lot of changes to the modem and the tech stack. We’re working with vendors to figure out a cost effective solution for the upgrade, but it’ll take a couple of years to roll out this solution.
Any more questions on the connectivity in the 450? Post your questions below and @chaitanya.hegde will be around to answer them!