Electro scooter, bike, segway and carsharing rentals
What you need to know about starting a mobile application for a rental business
While moving around crowded city centers is becoming more complicated and time-consuming, personal transport rentals become more and more popular. In the age of shared economy and green energy, apps for renting electric micro transport are becoming what you'll use to get to work, family, stores, etc tomorrow.
If the equipment that you consider is not MQTT based - search for another one.
We've built apps for electric scooter rental and bike rentals and gathered lots of experience in this field which we'd like to share today, as we believe that the future of transportation in cities is in this kind of apps (rather than Uber or Lyft).

The first thing that you need to know is that the most of the equipment out there that is used in such rental apps (including smart locks which could be placed on almost anything like regular old fashioned bikes or scooters) is build on open MQTT protocol. Except sharing apps, MQTT protocol is widely used in smart homes (IoT) as it's much faster and reliable (confirms the request is delivered) than HTTP.

  • First tip: if the equipment that you consider is not MQTT based - search for another one. Yes, there are options based on XML and HTTP transfer protocols our there (especially for car sharing, as that's where they make things more complicated), but there are certain disadvantages with all of them (this question is worth a separate article, so feel free to contact if you want to know more technical details about the subject)
Okay, but what is MQTT used for?
Shortly MQTT is used for communications between the device (tracking, unlocking, triggering features) and mobile apps backend server (through MQTT server). Each device has its own set of sensors, but for a rental kind of mobile app usually, you care about GPS tracker and mechanism to unlock and power on the device. They all are equipped with a SIM card slot, where you put Internet-ready card and go with a Bluetooth powered app which you use to set up the device to connect to your MQTT server. Then it sends all kind of data app needs to the server like battery charge level and it's current GPS location. When the app needs to start the ride - it triggers your backend server and server sends a message to the scooter itself via MQTT protocol.
It is a good idea to have additional tracking for the user's device
Despite the fact that there is a GPS module in the scooter itself, it is a good idea to have additional tracking for the user's device. Equipment is rather expensive, so an additional security level will only do good. For example, you can start tracking a user's location right after he starts the ride and periodically sends to the server until he finishes it. In such cases, we often use quite an energy-efficient way to track location - we update the server only if the user's location was changed for more than 50m, that is only when the user moves.

Additional security measure would be a built-in anti-theft system. Not all the devices go with it, but if you have concerns that your scooters or electro bikes are might be stolen - ask your vendor about it. That system is quite simple though reliable. When someone is trying to move the scooter in a turned-off state the lock will disable the motor by creating resistance to it. Along with that it will make a loud sound plus send an alarm to your MQTT server so you could take timely actions.

A lot of rental kind of apps put a QR code on their vehicles, why is that? A QR code is just a convenient way to unlock the vehicle and is not really connected to the equipment itself. Usually, there are two options: scan QR to unlock or enter the code manually. Right after there is an immediate pickup fee payment, and, as a result, the user gets the unlocked scooter or bike, or segway ready for the ride. Unlock codes as well as QR codes are created by the backend of the app and basically can be anything.

To give you an overall understanding of the pricing: regular scooter you can use for business will start from $450 (there are some which start from $58 on Alibaba, but they break faster that will pay themselves); smart locks with GPS are starting from $35; car-sharing solutions vary from $200 to $450 with a built-in display.
Another important part of rental mobile apps is a payment gateway or a payment processor. If you haven't made your mind about one, here is another article we recently wrong about the subject: Best payment gateway for a mobile App.

In terms of rates, the regular business model has a pickup fee and by minute ride charge, along with some "minimum payment" (which is mostly required by payment processors, like Stripe has a minimum of 0.3 euro payment for any charge).
Lately, we've also seen projects which were built on top of transport sharing apps, like Umiigo project we've made combines hot places and sightseeing with electric scooter rental which resulted in a great business model. The sky is the limit, so there are a lot of options which could be built on top of rental apps and we'd be glad to hear what you have in mind, as well as to make it happen. RESERVE A CALL with our rep.
Stepan Radiboh
CEO at CookieDev
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