Superpedestrian’s Teagan Brendlinger helps ensure that all urban populations can easily experience the convenience, safety and reliability of LINK scooters.
For transit specialists and consumers alike, electric scooters provide a compelling “first mile/last mile” connection between work or home and a city’s local transportation infrastructure.
Connecting People to Opportunity
For Teagan Brendlinger, a senior electrical design engineer with transportation robotics startup Superpedestrian, Cambridge, Mass., they’re much more than that. They’re also a vehicle for ensuring that urban populations achieve fair and equitable access to transpor-tation infrastructure, and by extension, the professional opportunities that cities have to offer.
“In many low-income neighborhoods in cities across America, the only way to get downtown is by driving, and you can’t spend $40 to park if you’re making minimum wage,” she explains. “Electric scooters can address this problem by helping people connect with local transit systems that can take them to locations where the best paying jobs are.”
Powering the User Experience
Brendlinger is part of an embedded software team at Superpedestrian that manages the design and development of the battery management system (BMS) and battery pack for the company’s LINK scooter. Her work includes not only the procurement of battery components and design of the battery pack itself, but also development of the software code that manages the scooter’s operation, including its response to city-imposed geofences.
A geofence is a virtual boundary that defines areas where the scooter is allowed to operate. These areas include zones where riders can park or not park a scooter, and more congested areas where scooters are required to operate at lower speed.
“My goal is for my work to be absolutely invisible to users,” she emphasizes. “When someone gets on one of our scooters, the BMS, which is a safety and control mechanism, appropriately protects that rider from anything bad happening. Ideally, the rider never gets into any situation that requires the BMS to take protective actions.”
Brendlinger grew up in Jamestown, R.I. in a “pro-engineering” household, the child of a father who gave up a career in engineering to sail around the world, and a mother who shared her husband’s passion for the charter boat industry.
“I was the kid who was always taking printers apart and trying to fix things,” she recalls fondly. Putting things back together, she acknowledges, however, is a "learned skill," one that comes later in the development process.
Although she had an aptitude for mechanical engineering, Brendlinger found that she was much more drawn to electrical engineering. At her private high school in East Providence, R.I., she had a physics teacher and a chemistry teacher who were “both really excellent at encouraging me and other students to explore other parts of science and engineering.”
So it surprised no one that Brendlinger ended up majoring in both electrical engineering and computer engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. While there, she cemented her passion for hardware-based logic, a skill that underpins her job at Superpedestrian today.
Through co-op programs at Northeastern, Brendlinger also gained experience designing, testing, debugging, and packaging printed circuit boards for advanced robotic applications, first with iRobot and later with Boston Dynamics. She graduated Northeastern in 2012 with a double-major bachelor’s degree.
Learning by Driving
After college, Brendlinger remained engaged with robotics, primarily with a company called Levant Power, which later became Clear Motion.
“Clear Motion was taking robotics technology and applying it to the problem of a poor ride in passenger vehicles,” she recalls. “Their approach to a fully active suspension, which uses software-enabled actuators to sense and respond to road conditions in real time, was very cool.”
In company marketing materials, Clear Motion presents this “digital chassis” as a way to “create an in-car experience that will make it pleasant to spend long amounts of time working or hanging out in future autonomous vehicles.”
Going with Micromobility
Brendlinger joined Superpedestrian in 2017. One of her first projects was working on one of the company’s early products, the Copenhagen Wheel, a self-contained rear electric wheel that transformed a traditional bicycle into a hybrid e-bike.
Developed by MIT’s Senseable City Lab in collaboration with the City of Copenhagen, Denmark, the Copenhagen Wheel included an electric motor, battery and a suite of sensors that helped amplify a rider's pedal stroke.
“We used to talk about the Copenhagen Wheel as a human range extender, a device in between a bike and car that could allow a person to go from walking one or two miles to now riding five to 10 miles at a time without getting sweaty,” she observes. “It really ‘flattened hills’ and got our engineers thinking about other types of transportation systems that fit in between bikes and cars. That’s how we ended up in scooters.”
"Electric scooters can help people connect with local transit systems that can take them to where the best jobs are.”
-- Teagan Brendlinger
Superpedestrian discontinued the Copenhagen Wheel in 2020 to focus on micromobility, but still provides support for Wheels in the field, she adds.
Delivering Safety and Reliability
Today, Brendlinger is most proud of Superpedestrian’s singular, almost obsessive focus on the user experience of its scooters.
“We designed the LINK scooter from a blank sheet, the first priority being safety, the second priority being reliability,” she emphasizes. “We’ve built a big sturdy scooter designed for a high frequency, shared-use fleet application.”
She points out, for example, that all of the software connected to scooter’s operation resides on the scooter itself, not in the cloud, which makes the scooters’ reaction to real-time events (such as leaving a geofenced area) faster and much more accurate.
Brendlinger also draws on her automotive experience when optimizing safety for LINK users.
“Just like automotive designers, we strive to prevent components from failing in the first place, but if a component does fail, what happens next?” she queries. “Is the scooter still safe, and will another component take over that job and slow the scooter down safely?”
Some of these questions get answered, explains Brendlinger, in the company’s rigorous product testing program, many of them modeled on automotive testing processes.
“Physical testing is a huge part of every Superpedestrian engineer’s job,” she stresses. “You can simulate and calculate, and it'll get you close to reality. But physical testing is what tells you what's really going to happen.”
Ensuring Equitable Access
For all her focus on engineering a safe, reliable scooter experience, however, Brendlinger is perhaps most passionate about ensuring equitable access to transportation infrastructure … and making scooters a part of that solution.
As a mantra of sorts, she references a “Swedish Snow Clearing Study,” an effort by Sweden to undo historical bias towards certain types of transportation modes, mainly those that benefited drivers (often working males) at the expense of walkers (often women).
“If you look at transmit maps in large cities such as Boston, you will sometimes see zones where there are wide gaps between transit lines,” Brendlinger observes. “Those ‘transit dead zones’ often correspond to areas with the largest non-white populations.”
Superpedestrian is determined, she claims, to build systems that ‘correct’ for those dead zones and biases.
“We pay a lot of attention to areas of cities that are under served by local transportation infrastructure,” claims Brendlinger. “By making scooters widely available in those areas and often offering discounted fares, we’re trying to make it easy for the locals to connect with transit systems that seemed too far away before.”
Making a Difference
And she’s pretty sure it’s working.
“The things that make me the happiest are stories I see online from people sharing their scooter experiences,” she beams. “Stuff like, ‘hey, you used to never be able to go from this neighborhood to downtown and I always had to take a taxi to my (minimum wage) job. And now I can take a scooter’.”
Inspiring from Home
Like most people in America, Brendlinger has had to adjust her work routine to accommodate COVID-19. She still rises early, lights a candle, sometimes meditates but never misses her iced coffee, either at home or her favorite local coffee shop.
Home for Brendlinger is Billerica, Mass., where she lives with her spouse, two dogs and a rabbit named Moth. She typically makes the 20+ mile commute to Superpedestrian’s offices in Cambridge about once per week. Sometimes she drives, sometimes she takes an “inconvenient train,” sometimes she hops on her Copenhagen Wheel-equipped bike for the hour+ ride.
For inspiration and indeed, as a motivating force for her work, Brendlinger draws on the writing of Caroline Criado-Perez in her book “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.”
“The book is about data bias and how it can exclude women,” she explains. “At Superpedestrian, we try to be mindful of data bias, particularly when we’re trying to figure out how best to deploy scooters in different neighborhoods. We need to make sure our data is representative of the actual reality on the ground.”
In the end, Brendlinger believes, scooters are just one — but important — slice of an eco-friendly transportation solution for cities worldwide.
“Scooters are never going to replace cars, or buses or trains but they can extend the ability of people to access local transportation infrastructure,” she offers.
“If we can reduce say, a 35-minute walk to the bus or train to a 5-minute scooter ride, we can add a lot of new options to a lot of people’s lives. And that’s gotta be a good thing.”
# # #