If you’ve ever tried any of those dockless electric scooters, then it might be time for you to look for an upgrade. And you’re in luck, a new startup, based out of Oakland California, might just be the real deal. Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, but now it is also a stylish electric scooter. Before I go too deep into what this scooter can do, can I just say one thing – does anyone else hear “unagi” and automatically think of Ross from Friends? Ironically, the episode that I’m talking about Ross uses the term “unagi”, which he thinks means something else, but it does simply mean freshwater eel.
Electric scooters are becoming an incredibly convenient way to commute in and around the city. But not everyone lives in a city where they have dockless, shareable scooters like Bird and Lime. David Hyman, the former Beats Music CEO and co-founder of music startup MOG, says he was inspired to launch Unagi after finding the scooter-sharing services to be kind of a “drag.” Many of the scooters are broken, and they could be hard to find when you need them the most, Hyman said. His story is kind of heartbreaking, but also inspirational, if you ask me:
“The real breaking point was a year ago, taking one to Whole Foods to buy groceries and coming outside to find someone took my scooter. I had just bought a $7 pint of Jenny’s ice cream and it was 75 degrees outside. I walked to the closest scooters based on their apps showing them to me on a map, and as I approached (1/4-1/2 mile away), someone jumped on and rode away. I walked home with melted ice cream and decided at that point, I needed to own one.”
The company was first introduced in China as “Swan”, but they have since been rebranded as Unagi for its US release. Again – this might become humorous to some people who are familiar with this particular episode of Friends. Hyman traveled to China where he toured several scooter factories and was most impressed by the team at Qingmai Company working on Swan. He convinced three of the company’s industrial designers to form Unagi for the purpose of releasing the scooter in the US.
“We spent six months massively improving on the legacy design. New motors, new braking mechanism, new lighting, new display, and most importantly, rebuilt from the ground up controller from the drone world that’s bullet-proof. The Swan was the 1.0 and the Unagi is the 2.0, and going forward it’s all Unagi”.
The company has launched a Kickstarter campaign, and have raised over $100,000. This is in an attempt to start shipping scooters in January. What makes them so incredible? The handlebars are magnesium, the stem is Japanese carbon fiber, and the deck is machined aluminum with embedded silicon. The price tag, though, differs wildly from the original price for the Swan scooter in China. Unagi comes in a couple of different models — a 250 watt for $890 and a 450 watt for $1,190. Compare that to popular brands available on Amazon, like Xiaomi Mi for $599, or Segway-Ninebot for $777.
Both of the models have three riding modes: beginner (9.3 mph max speed), intermediate (12.4 mph max speed), and advanced (15.5 mph max speed). A digital display between the handlebars indicates what mode you’re in, how fast you’re going, and how much battery life you have left.