Jelly is a new electric scooter company preparing to launch at Purdue University in Indiana. Outwardly, it appears very similar to other scooter startups that have quickly spread across the country in the last 12 months. Except for one key difference: Jelly is apparently a subsidiary of Ford, one of the largest automakers in the world.
Of course, you wouldn’t know that by going to Jelly’s website, because there’s nothing there except the words “Coming Soon!” set against a purple background. Nor would you know it to read Purdue University’s announcement, which describes Jelly as “a campus-wide research project on best practices for using e-scooters,” but makes no mention of Ford.
Purdue’s eagle-eyed students discovered the truth soon enough. Sameer Kapur, a student at Purdue, was the first to notice the automaker’s involvement, tweeting that Jelly’s rental agreement contained contact information for Ford Smart Mobility LLC, the tech-focused subsidiary that spun off from Ford Motor Company in 2016.
1/ @Ford is entering the e-scooter rental business, through a subsidiary called “Jelly”. Their website is in pre-launch mode as of now: https://t.co/viYOgryshd Their iOS app is not live on the app store yet, but the website lists they are active on @LifeAtPurdue campus.
— Sameer K (@thesameerk) October 23, 2018
Ford wanted to keep its name off the project for fear of skewing the results, but after Kapur and others posted screengrabs to Twitter and Reddit, there was no point in keeping it under wraps, said Steven Tally, a senior strategist for Purdue’s office for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. “I don’t think it’s going to hold,” Tally said he told Ford.
A spokesperson for the automakers would only say, “We are proud to support this academic research project with Purdue. We look forward to learning more about scooters as a mobility solution.”
According to Purdue, 40 scooters will be distributed across the campus for a total of four weeks. Jelly will coordinate with city and campus officials before and during the 45-day operational pilot to ensure “a positive relationship.” A team led by Darcy Bullock, a civil engineering professor and director of the university’s Joint Transportation Research Program, will study how “the oft-maligned e-scooters can best be incorporated into an urban environment.” Tally said that Ford’s engineers would be working with university staff to pull data off the scooters to help determine uptime, fleet management, and other factors for the study.
“Hopefully, the result will be to take away the stigma and negative feelings about these scooters,” Tally added.
Jelly’s (or Ford’s, as it were) approach to dockless electric scooters couldn’t be more different from other so-called micromobility players like Bird and Lime, which have gained both fame and notoriety for dropping hundreds of two-wheeled devices in cities without any warning. It’s a business plan of seeking forgiveness rather than permission when they arrive in a new market.
Bird already operates hundreds of scooters at Purdue, though officials haven’t been too pleased by it. West Lafayette police impounded nearly two dozen of the scooters in the first few days — mainly because they blocked sidewalks, according to the Lafayette & Journal Courier.
Although the Jelly research results are intended to be used by civil engineering and city planners worldwide, Purdue said it will be using the information for future decisions about whether to allow scooters on campus and how they should be used.
“Any city planner or engineer looking for information on e-scooters has probably only seen negative news stories about companies dumping scooters in a city and creating chaos, or a sales pitch from one of the companies,” Aaron Madrid, alternative transportation coordinator at Purdue, said in the release. “To have actual data about what does and does not work well will be invaluable.”
Jelly isn’t Ford’s first foray into scooters. The company also owns Ojo, an electric scooter startup based in California — though Ojo is only for sale, not rent.