By Annie YJ Chang, Chris Cherry, PhD., Leila Hawa of SAE International
City dwellers, academics and policymakers contemplate whether micromobility is transforming everyday people into super-pedestrians. Collectively referred to as “micromobility,” this new travel mode promises to deliver cherry-picked benefits from conventional modes (aka walking and driving). Micromobility sits in a grey zone as it is neither fully “active” nor “motorized in the traditional sense, resulting in headaches for the community on how they’re defined and where they go on the street. Let’s look at the example of electric standing scooters like those offered by Bird and Lime. These electric standing scooters are smaller, lighter, and have slower top speeds than conventional cars. So really, what are they?
Standardization can simply be understood as an agreed upon way of doing things. In the micromobility space, standards are rare because of the industry’s nascency. Developing standards offers a handful of benefits even in this rapidly growing micromobility community. For one, standardization of terms and definitions allows the broader community to communicate effectively. We can have some clarity on the very fuzzy boundaries between powered micromobility vehicles and other existing types of motorized and non-motorized vehicles.
A standardized taxonomy is here
Enter SAE International’s J3194™, a Taxonomy & Classification of Powered Micromobility Vehicles. It’s a first step in the right direction to help nail down a common language that people can use to communicate about these small and beautiful phenoms of mobility. The document was developed in serious collaboration between some of the brightest experts in the micromobility community. The document was designed to have the flexibility to accommodate future innovations in the ever-evolving micromobility landscape. After dozens of meetings, document iterations, and balloting we are now ready to share our first official version of SAE J3194.
Early in the development process, the SAE committee decided to narrow the scope of SAE J3194 on vehicles intended for human transport on paved roadways (i.e., vehicles that are primarily designed for goods delivery or off-road use are excluded from this standard). The standard officially introduces the term “powered micromobility vehicle,” to describe the class of vehicles that (i) are partially or fully powered by a motor/engine (i.e., excludes solely human powered vehicles like pedal-only bikes); (ii) have a top speed of no greater than 30 mph (48 km/h); and (iii) have a curb weight of no greater than 500 lb (227 kg). These broad characteristics; powered, relatively slow and lightweight are aimed at developing common terminology to classes of vehicles that are generally not defined elsewhere. SAE J3194 defines six distinct types of micromobility vehicles based on physical vehicle attributes, that range from the powered bicycle to the powered skates (chart below). You can find the SAE J3194 cheat sheet here.
Each of the six vehicle types are classified by how they perform across four classification dimensions (weight, width, speed, power source), so that transportation managers can use the standard to determine where any type of micromobility vehicle might fit into the transportation system. For example, one class (low speed) of electric standing scooter might be slow enough to operate in a bicycle lane; the same type of electric standing scooter might be too fast to operate in the bicycle lane. The standard includes four classifications that can be used to name micromobility vehicles, so that instead of referring to the ambiguous “e-scooter” you can specify an “ultra lightweight, standard-width, low-speed, electric standing scooter” or a “midweight, standard-width, medium-speed, electric seated scooter.” The committee grappled a number of other dimensions to include in the classification, but in the end agreed that these vehicle types and performance classifications capture a large portion of the currently undefined vehicle space.
How to use J3194
Micromobility has been caught in terminology traps since e-bikes rolled into city streets a decade ago and were classified as mopeds by many existing state regulations. Hard work by the bicycle industry has improved how industry and regulators address e-bikes today. The recent flood of electric standing scooters revealed another hole in our mobility vocabulary. The J3194 standard will help states, cities, and micromobility industry (both shared and consumer owned) develop vehicles that are appropriately regulated for use in the transportation system. Importantly, we aimed to develop type and category definitions that could be used to identify the conditions that these vehicles belong in the shared pedestrian realm, in bicycle lanes, or outside of non-motorized infrastructure. This gives industry clarity on the classes of vehicles that can be developed and how to deploy those vehicles in different markets. When developing regulation, industry and regulators can agree on a performance envelope defined by this standard that will give the regulation flexibility toward future micromobility vehicle design and avoid being cornered by obsolete or ambiguous terminology.
One step at a time
Taxonomy development is usually the very first step in standardization. In other words, J3194 is just the beginning of micromobility standards portfolio at SAE. Stay tuned for our next steps as we dive deeper into the technical weeds of hardware and software specifications.
In case you missed it!
- For a snazzy graphic summary of the SAE J3194 standard, we’ve got you covered.
- For all of you standards readers out there, check out the full SAE J3194 document.
- Stay updated with SAE’s growing micromobility portfolio.
Reach out to Annie with any questions or suggestions.
About the authors
Annie YJ Chang is the Head of New Mobility at SAE International where oversees the organization’s standards and research portfolio in micromobility and shared mobility. She is also pursuing her doctorate degree in transportation engineering at McGill University.
Chris Cherry is a professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Tennessee. His research focuses on policy-oriented analysis of the role of emerging vehicle technologies in the transportation system. Chris also serves as the Chair of the SAE Powered Micromobility Vehicles Committee.
Leila Hawa is a master’s of engineering student focusing on transportation engineering at McGill University. She works at SAE as a research assistant with the micromobility and shared mobility committees.