The Future Is Now

Weird-looking technology is increasingly used as transit.

A Marble sidewalk delivery robot moves down Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District on July 21, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)


As Muni riders stare out the window, pedestrians walk down the road, and bikers ride down their designated lanes, they may notice flashes of people on quirky devices whizzing by. 

Which has us thinking: when did San Francisco’s streets start to look like futures popularly imagined in movies, television shows, and even local murals

The Board of Supervisors has a bill to regulate the use of delivery robots, which makes it harder not to notice strange-looking technology around the city. While the delivery robots under scrutiny are for commercial purposes, we’re looking at tech operated by regular humans just going from one place to the other.

Public transit agencies appeal to saving time and money on gas and parking, rideshare companies add on the temptation of sparing a perhaps lengthy and rickety ride on public transportation, and these tech tools make the sales pitch to be free of all of the above — without sweating on your way to work or back home because you biked. Below are some such devices:

(Photo courtesy of Hovertrax)

No, these aren’t hoverboards — they’re self-balancing electric scooters that are relegated to ever-crowding bike lanes. One of many brands of these misnamed hoverboards is Hovertrax by Razor USA, which now goes for around $300.

(Photo courtesy of Stigo)

Then there’s an Estonian electric scooter called Stigo recently launched in San Francisco after overcoming challenges in other cities like — in their words — “getting people to ride the scooter in public when it seems uncool.”

That is, indeed, a grown man riding a vehicle seemingly made for a child — or at the very least, an acutely petite women like myself. A Stigo scooter retails for $1,399 while Stigo+ goes for $1,699.

(Photo courtesy of b8ta)

Another way to get around on wheels without breaking a sweat is by using a skateboard by Boosted that’ll cost you $1,499. On the plus side, it’ll save you from exerting physical strength when climbing hills and award you a smug look when passing Muni. Besides using them for those hills, this is probably the most discreet way to not look lazy.


(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Some electric bikes — also called e-bikes — also look discreet, but some have thick tires or an obvious motor-bike look to them. Some are also foldable, though that still doesn’t seem like fun to carry around. Prices can range from $1,500 to $5,800.

(Photo courtesy of Ninebot)

Last, but certainly not least, is this quirky disc-shaped device that’s reminiscent of R2D2. We present: one-disc scooter — sometimes dubbed a unicycle — by Ninebot. It’s easily the most convenient to carry around and usually retails for $699, but Ninebot has it on sale for $399.

It’s not clear that every user is aware of whether they belong on the sidewalk or in the bike lanes, but we’ll be watching how these devices assimilate. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: A previous version of this article lists the outdated price of Stigo as $1,800,  $2,100 for Stigo +, and the store b8ta as the manufacturer of Boosted.


View Comments