Liberating Birds For A Cheap Electric Scooter

A few months ago, several companies started deploying electric scooters on the sidewalks of cities around the United States. These scooters were standard, off-the-shelf electric scooters made in China, loaded up with battery packs, motors, and a ‘brain box’ that has a GPS unit, a cellular modem, and a few more electronics that turn this dumb electric scooter into something you can ride via an app. Dropping electronic waste on cities around the country was not looked upon kindly by these municipalities, and right now there are hundreds of Bird and Lime scooters in towing yards, just waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

This is a remarkable opportunity for anyone who can turn a screwdriver and handle a soldering iron. For mere pennies on the dollar you can buy dozens of these scooters, and you can own thousands of dollars in batteries and electronics if you show up to the right auction. [humanbeing21] over on the scootertalk forums is preparing for the Bird apocalypse, and he’s already converted a few of these scooters to be his personal transportation device.

The subject of this conversion are scooters deployed by Bird, which are in actuality Xiaomi MIJIA M365 scooters with a few added electronics to connect to the Internet. The ‘conversion kit’ for a Bird scooter comes directly from China, costs $30, and is apparently a plug-and-play sort of deal. The hardest part is finding a screwdriver with the right security bits, but that again is a problem eBay is more than willing to solve.

Right now, [humanbeing21] is in contact with a towing company that has well over a hundred Bird scooters on their lot, each accruing daily storage fees. Since these scooters only cost about $400 new, we’re probably well past the time when it makes sense for Bird to pay to get them out of storage. This means they’ll probably be heading for an auction where anyone can pick them up — all of them — for a hundred bucks or so.

Right now, scooter hacking is becoming one of the most interesting adventures in modern-day hacking. You’ve got batteries and electronics and motors just sitting there, ready for the taking (and yes, through these auctions you can do this legally). We’re looking at a future filled with 18650-based Powerwalls from discarded electric scooters and quadcopters built around scooter motors filling the skies. This is cyberpunk, and we can’t wait to see the other builds these scooters will become.

65 thoughts on “Liberating Birds For A Cheap Electric Scooter

  1. Hehe, that probably means we’ll see more than one of those on the next Supercon ;-P Lime’s controller is just waiting to be turned into some kind of cellphone or a portable computer’s communication solution, too – Bluetooth, 3G and GPS, plus a sound codec.

    1. 1) Yes. 2) Impounded for violating the law, left on sidewalks or roads where they shouldn’t be, etc. 3) Decided it was cheaper to write off the lost scooters and not pay the impound + daily storage charge. Which are probably criminally highway theft level of fees. Probably being charged the same as a car’s daily storage charge even though you can fit 80 in a single car. Towing companies should die.

      1. If it costs more than their value to release them from impound, but is substantially cheaper at auction, why doesn’t the owner just bid a fair price at the auction? At least if there are hundreds of them.

        1. Sometimes there tend to be laws and/or rules that prevent a neglecting owner from bidding on their own foreclosed property. And the tow yard can still sue the owner for the difference between the fees charged and what the lot went for at auction.

          But they probably won’t bother, because even at auction, it would still be cheaper/better for them to write off on their taxes, and buy new ones that they can depreciate more, with less chance the equipment would need repair/maintenance. If they aren’t doing it, its because the costs outweigh the benefits for them. If it was better for them, they would.

    2. Well, “functional”. Expect the batteries to be dead or damaged, and the mechanical components being on their last legs.

      These city-bike type schemes always end up with the equipment breaking down on the way, or intentionally stolen, abused and wrapped around a streetlight, thrown in ditches and pools, or just kicked and beaten to bits etc. Then they get picked up by the authorities or cleaning companies from where they happen to lay, tossed in the back of a truck in a pile, and taken to the impound lot. They see a lot of abuse along the way.

      Some of them may just be parked wrong and picked up.

        1. You’d be surprised how fast the people will chew through anything left outside.

          My city had a “green bike” campaign where they bought a bunch of old bicycles from the police impound lot, fixed them, painted them, added the city logos and QR codes and made special parking bollards for them, so people could borrow one for a penny. Two months later they were all broken down or lost.

          I saw one thrown up into a tree. Dunno how they got it that high.

          1. Basically, if you want to have a public bike/scooter sharing program where the equipment is left outside instead of returned to the shop for a return fee, you have to assume that the people will abandon them anywhere and everywhere and generally just neglect them. You will have to go around in a pickup truck, and fish them out of ditches and bushes, and fix them again and again.

            It takes just one asshole to break one bike per one day, and 2-3 months later the whole fleet is gone. If there’s a public event, you can be sure 50% of the equipment gets lost or stolen in one night.

  2. “This is cyberpunk, and we can’t wait to see the other builds these scooters will become.”

    More like cyber-junk. The other part of the movement seldom written about, but depicted in Wall-E, and Deponia.

  3. “Dropping electronic waste”. If they would just identify as human waste, in modern US cities there would be no interference.

    Though if they are fully functional and not in dumpsters, I don’t follow the “electronic waste” crack.

          1. “Not wanted” is a definitive statement. Just because some people, a minority of the population, says they don’t want it, does not make it waste. Some people think cell phones, computers, and the internet is not wanted, does that make it waste? NO.

          2. “Now put away the “you can’t tell us what to do”.”
            This is a very ugly statement in any context to anyone who loves liberty. I’m mainly restating it so you can reflect on just what you are saying. The individual soul is naturally a free spirit, with limits of ability defined by the bodies we are assigned to. One soul naturally has no authority over any other. The only semblense of genuine authority happens when people form a community and together select one or more people to represent them regarding various issues while the members get on with other matters of their own business. Society at its best is cooperative, not coercive. :-)

        1. All must serve the cycle.
          If there is no balance, there might be nothing left to fight for. A Necromancer is all about the balance, and the cycle must keep turning from life to death back to life. A being that disrupt this should be .. a fine corpse!

          1. Necromancy? What? I didn’t realize that scooters had souls. Shoes, yes, but scooters? ..or is this just a colorful substitutiary term for recycling? Its fun to play with alternative words when describing things but this is a bit much considering there is no such thing as magic, only those who delude themselves into believing in it. …that said we DON’T know much at all about the soul-body relationship. Perhaps if we did, we might be able to create a context where scooters could become “haunted” with a soul, just so it could live in torment with only one purpose in life and instead being left rotting locked behind the cage of the impounding lot until some hacker goes by and kills it while making its parts into something else. :-) …Wow what a bunny trail I just followed. I like chasing bunnies. :-) There was this bunny I saw a few days ago……:-)

  4. I steal broken birds that the “chargers” dump outside the nest when they realize they picked up a broken one that can’t yield them $5. I swap parts and turn two broken ones into one working unit. I add a new blutooth board and bam I have a bird.

  5. You would be best served to check the local ordinances before you buy one.
    The “Ask for forgiveness, instead of permission” mindset of the scooter company caused a sweep up of them and then we were dealt a new set of rules around them.
    For example: In my city you now need a divers license and to be over 18, to ride one.
    So You can thank the jerks from Bird or ( your own local scooter co), for giving impetus to many of whatever strictures you find in the areas of the actions.

    Sad to say, but it Seems like when the cliche of “one person (or company) can make a difference” applies that it’s usually when we are doing something that’s just big enough to screw things up for everyone.

    1. You probably already had to as the government only looks at the current rules. Rules are specific crafted to rule out the inexpected. See segway… here in the netherlands you could not ride one as the law only knows about bicycles, bicycles with support engine and the rules state tgat they should have propper ( for a bike) lighting, brakes, gas handle, identification. That sort of things. Exactly describing a regular bike. A segway was none of those > not permitted on the public ways. Novel ways always receive a NO and you have to force a breakthrough or you wait indefenetly.

      1. This touches on the definition of a free society. In a free society people may do whatever they want except for what is prohibited. In an oppressive society people are only permitted to do things that are explicitly stated as permitted. Public roads and sidewalks are kind of a special situation. Vehicles on the road require registration which usually involves an inspection and certain standards. (for good reason) The sidewalks are another thing. If I deem my toolbox as too heavy to move around myself and put a motor on it so it can follow me around and I choose to walk down a side walk, I would not be violating any laws as it follows me. Now if I decided to sit on top of it and guide it’s motion, it would be another matter. It becomes a powered vehicle :-) Generally any human powered unit is acceptable no matter what the construction with no need for registration/regulation. Put a motor in it like with these scooters and you’ve got something else. An electric motor-cycle or Segway is conceptually not that different although I’m sure the “Zero” motorcycle company would want to argue. :-) I say anthing goes as long as it doesn’t mess with other people’s lives too much and the laws at least where I live match that philosopy pretty well. :-)

          1. In places where population densities are lower a “anarcho/libertarian” perspective, as you call it, is the norm because souls living in sparse settings have to deal more with their physical environement than the social environment that people impose one each other. It’s a very different dynamic and its no dream world. Its reality. That said, I can see how people who are forced to live in crates stacked on top of each others, like chickens in a poultry truck, might think it’s a fantacy.

          1. Sounds reasonable as a portion of what I would call “prohibited”. It’s kind of fun going down the bunny trail of doing our own constitutional convention, trying to decide what set of law would be best in this time and age. It might even be compatible with hackaday, but most likely not….I think. :-) …Personally if I was there I’d allow representatives to arrive at congress/senate using telexistence or video phone. I really love the idea of keeping them pinned down where their constituents live rather than off at D.C. forgetting who they actually work for and doing nothing but make bad deals and attending elitist parties….Or we could do away with physical meeting places all together and do it all in VR…but i regress. :-) … I suppose we could force them all to converge riding a long chain of little electric bird scooters, come rain, snow , hail, sleet, tornado…. :-)

    1. Basic property laws. Just because it’s on the street does not make it a free for all. There are specific laws for when property becomes “trash” or a “nuisance”. Which is why they have to be impounded, and auctioned under impound laws. Same laws that prevent you from just grabbing any kid’s bike on the street.

        1. No, you are legally bound to follow your area’s abandoned and misplace property laws. Typically means turning it over to the police or putting notice in a paper and then after x days it becomes yours or the state’s property (escheat laws). Keep in mind, the owner of these things, Birb or Lime, is not the one throwing it on your lawn, it’s 3rd parties. If someone steals a car and dumps it on your lawn, that’s not a free car for you. You have even less chance of keeping it in that case, than if the real owner had dumped it on your lawn. Etc.

          1. This is an ancient legal concept, at least a few thousand year old, and the law is pretty well the same today.

            Deuteronomy 22:1 New Living Translation
            “If you see your neighbor’s ox or sheep or goat wandering away, don’t ignore your responsibility. Take it back to its owner.

            The same law would apply today to horses, llamas, cars, bicycles, cell phones, and yes even scooters. :-)

          2. They don’t teach that kind of thing in school. (With “common core” they are too busy forcing people to use lots of un-natural pronouns instead of anything useful) If a kid’s parents don’t care to teach them anything and their buddies are just as clueless, I can expect such ignorance, even among physically grown adults. TV would normally fail them too. Had they read the book of Deuteronomy, they would have known. (lots of property law in there)

  6. This whole scooter leasing industry is as bizzare as bizzere can get to someone like myself who lives in place where it is almost always too hot or too cold or too wet or too windy or too snowy to want to be outside. Some places are just not good for such things unless a soul has something like a space-suite to wear. :-) ….still, so many cool parts to play with.

      1. I think about that often especially when allergy season hits. But home is home. I’m surrounded by people I love and who love me. How could I abandon that? Its worth more than the inconvenience of a not always pleasant outside environment. (A perspective that Martian settlers will need to survive although I’d rather just stay put then be one of them) …”bloom where you’re planted” I say…only when one find one’s self uprooted…. :-)

        I expect that if I DID choose to live in a place where the weather is pleasant most of the time, it would be so filled with people that there would be nothing but a sea of humanity and few individuals to recognize. Community is difficult when population densities are too high. People start treating each other as “disposable friends” when interacting. Everything ends up superficial and hypocritical with no sincerity. The Great Pumpkin would never visit such places, but perhaps out in my back yard garden if I cared to grow one. :-) (probably not for me personally, being fond of foxes, I occasionally am entertained by a crafty deception. Such a nature would probably keep the Great Pumpkin away so you won’t see me freezing out in my pumpkin patch waiting for him if I had one. :-) )

      1. Try Nebraska. The natives there love the place because the weather is exciting, but it is rarely comfortable. In the summer days may start out in the 60’sF but then shoots up into the 80’s and above very quickly. Then there is the winter that usually finds itself in the 20’sF but lower often happens. Another factor is that the weather keeps changing all the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve entered into a Walmart dressed for the weather as it was and then found a completly different scenario as I left. So If I dress to go visit someone on a scooter and then leave after my visit the weather will probably different and I’ll need to dress differently, but there is not trunk to put a winter coat, or rain coat in. (We hardly use umbrellas because the wind likes to destroy them) …then there’s hail and tornados in certain seasons and the distances traveled to visit friends are rather large. Consequently we love our cars, SUVs and pickups. :-) I think weather watching is our second favorite spectator sport, second only to watching the Nebraska Cornhusker Football team. :-)
        …then there’s mountain lions…I can imagine them hearing the wirring of scooters along the path under the trees…food coming. :-) …not too many of them where I live, Thank God!!

      1. I live in the central plains of North America, a region that produes more astronauts per capita than any other place. The people are kind, the land is harsh, and the sky is beautiful. Fundamentally, outer space would not be all that different, exept we would be pining for the absent ragweed. :-)

          1. …but not so much the cities where people live in such a coddled/artificial setting they can and DO end up extra stupid. All those bright city lights mean nothing when I can buy whole rolls of LEDs, 60,000 lumen flashlights, and 5 Watt lasers on Ebay. Out here we can actually hear ourselves think and can see the sky in all its beauty if we turn our lights off. We can actually have our own thoughts, not just the ideas other people jam at us. It’s wonderful psychologically but, yes the physical is pretty demanding, but we makers can make machines to deal with the physical problems. :-)

  7. Seems Purdue town has 3000 now according to the WL mayor this week, they confiscated many sometime back when there 300. Thirty 18650 cells (chinaisum oxide) 36volt 7.6 A amp hour power them. I wonder weather they are any good. The snow hasn’t made them fly south. Indiana is popular with these things, though in a bad way. Speedway (Indy500), Indianapolis, Bloomington, lots of opportunity.

      1. dev boards in a closet are one thing, i just bid on a couple sweet woodworking tools (planer and table saw), an ATV and one of those trailer road signs (thats what im most excited for!)

  8. I doubt the scooters would be going that cheap to be honest. More and more people are becoming aware of the usefulness of 18650 batteries in general or the business opportunities presented by acquiring a load of cheap electric scooters. You won’t be paying hundreds per scooter, but I doubt you’d get a dozen for 100 dollars either. Maybe 2 or 3.

  9. On the technical side, this scooters use a brushless motor and Ave good storage with batteries,
    I would like to salvage one to make a wind turbine.
    Basically, I know they have a brushless motor of around 300w .
    It seems to be a good fit to make a wind turbine, anybody has any reference, guidelines or advices to try this?

  10. Really want an electric scooter like these. Sadly the Razor electric one is rubbish in comparison. One day i will get hold of one to use… oh wait… the stupid British government will not let you ride one on the pavement… wish they sort this out! Wit, there busy sorting other c£%p out…

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