Flint, MI—You’ve seen them in Detroit and college campuses. They materialize overnight, no warning or explanation, and suddenly everyone is zipping past you on the sidewalk at questionably fast speeds.
Yes, we’re talking about electric scooters—and they’re coming to Flint this June.
They’ll be powered by KUHMUTE, a Flint-based company that has reimagined how micromobility devices, which is any small, electric-powered vehicle shared between multiple people, are charged.
“Everyone thinks we build scooters, but we design and build the charging systems for them,” Co-founder and CEO Peter Deppe said, adding they did launch a shared e-scooter fleet in 2019 in Flint before COVID hit.
But the charging system isn’t just any charging system.
At present, there’s no standard “plug,” so-to-speak, that is compatible with every micromobility device. All e-scooters, e-bikes, and even e-skateboards have different power and amperage requirements, connectors, and parking needs.
But KUHMUTE is changing that. Their smart charging station, or “Hub” and vehicle adaptor create a universal network that allows multiple devices to recharge at the same charging station, which saves rideshare companies, like Lime and Bird, time and money.
The idea began in 2018 when Deppe and Co-Founder and CTO Scott Spitler were seniors at Kettering University.
“It started off as a late-night project. We were studying for electronics class and started screwing around on a whiteboard with the concept,” Spitler said.
The two had noticed a trend on the news: cities were struggling with e-scooter pileups because people weren’t returning them to the docking station.
“We started [saying], ‘There’s got to be a better way. There’s got to be a better way to keep all these vehicles organized,’” Spitler said.
After more research, they discovered the costs to charge e-scooters were substantial.
“The average is $5-$8 per night, per scooter,” Deppe said. With KUHMUTE, access to their network costs companies $10 a month per shared fleet.
Installing an adapter takes less than three minutes, Spitler said. Depending on the vehicle, a full charge can last anywhere from a day to a day and a half.
Though the technology looks simple, behind it is a team of engineers who all have one thing in common: they’re students at Kettering University.
Welcome to ‘Engineering Island’
KUHMUTE’s products are homemade in Flint.
“We build basically everything right here, or within 40 minutes of here,” Spitler said. The shop is on the corner of S. Dye Road and Lennon Road in Flint Township, a shared space with Divide by Design, an office furniture store.
Inside, e-scooters, e-bikes, and other small vehicles sit in clusters around the industrial space. A separate room houses several 3D printers and a laser engraver.
“These four printers are all for prototyping,” Deppe explains. He points to a machine layering a small, black unknown shape. “I designed it this morning. Probably has four more hours left to printing and then we’ll be able to test fit it later today,” he said.
The team works at what is dubbed “Engineering Island,” likely a reference to the oval seating arrangement.
Melody Denby, a freshman at Kettering, is the youngest team member. At KUHMUTE, she’s a full stack developer, meaning she specializes in front end and back end application development.
“I get to dabble in a little bit of everything with a focus on programming. I have helped with programming the app but also, I’ve done some hardware for some aspects of charging the scooters,” Denby said.
As students, the team benefits from on-the-job experience while also fulfilling Kettering’s internship requirements.
For Gabe Weir, a Junior, KUHMUTE offers him transferable skills to pursue his true passion: game design.
He creates online 3D spaces where users can explore a city and experience how a KUHMUTE hub might work in the real world.
“I’m basically doing a sort of pseudo game design, but in the context of a product that we will be offering people to use with our services…. KUHMUTE has given me the ability to explore my passions in a productive way, and also produce something for the company that is valuable and useful to our customers,” Weir said.
And KUHMUTE’s customer list is growing, fast. They have projects launching all over California, Canada, and even London.
“We do have a few competitors. But we’re the only ones that, I can say, actually build the product and don’t source it. A lot of people will source something from China, like more of a generic thing, and essentially try to oversell what it can do,” Spitler said.
While it is not yet known what company will provide the e-scooters, KUHMUTE is working with The City of Flint’s Small Business Specialist Samantha Fountain to sort out the details. Fountain was not avialible for comment by press time.
To start, there will be 25 hubs located downtown, on the University of Michigan-Flint’s campus and on Kettering’s campus. Residents will have access to 60 e-scooters and 20 e-bikes along with the charging hubs.
Deppe said they hope to expand to Mott’s campus next year, but they’re keeping things “tight and close” for now.
KUHMUTE’s adaptors are also available for personally owned vehicles. The adapter costs $100 to install and then $10 per month to access the network.
Eventually, KUHMUTE hopes to be a solution for the many Flint residents facing transportation challenges.
“The great thing about micromobility is it’s a great connecting piece to other forms of mobility. So, for example, if (a hub) was outside a bus station, you increase the overall accessibility to get people to and from that bus stop….We see ourselves working together with public transit, helping to connect the different options,” Deppe said.
In the meantime, both co-founders hope to continue creating technology-focused jobs in Flint.
“There’s a reason why we stayed in Flint. It’s great place. I went to college here. This is the place I’ve known and has been home since I was 17,” Spitler said.
And no matter where their products go, a little piece of Flint goes too. Because etched on every hub and adapter is a message: “Made with Love in Flint.”