Onewheel, self-balancing electric skateboard, thrills

The makers of Onewheel, a self-balancing electric skateboard, say it's not just a toy. They say it's a viable option for commuters.
January 23, 2014 8:16:58 PM PST
It may be the most unusual way to get around town you've ever seen. And the only traffic jams it causes are when people stop to stare at it. We took a ride on the contraption called "Onewheel."

The first question is always the same.

"You know, I've had cars screech on their brakes, turn into reverse, come back and start shouting at me, 'what is that!'" inventor Kyle Doerksen said.

And the answer isn't always straightforward.

"It's not really a skateboard," said Jack Mudd, Onewheel product evangelist. "If anything, it's more of a snowboard or a wakeboard, really."

A slab of metal and wood with a giant tire stuck in the middle. Inventor Doerksen finally gave it a name.

"Onewheel," he said. "And it's the world's first self-balancing electric skateboard."

An engineer who used to work at the product design firm IDEO, Doerksen spent sleepless nights cramming an electric bike motor inside a go kart wheel, hooking up batteries and sensors and doing an awful lot of math.

"We call it a digital vehicle," he said. "And that means that the whole experience of riding is determined by the software, by the algorithms in there."

Lean forward to go, backward to stop.

"If I lean more I go faster, I lean back I slow down," Doerksen said.

Roll toward your toes or heels to make a turn.

It's so close to snowboarding on concrete, Doerksen's even got his own marketing guy amazed.

"I'm not the science guy, so it's mind boggling for me to lean forward and actually to go," Mudd said.

Now, he's had plenty of practice. But what about a novice like me?

"If you've tried to learn how to snowboard, that's' usually two to three days," Doerksen said. "This is more like two to three minutes.

So, I strapped on a helmet and went for my first ride. It lasted about three seconds.

The hardest part of learning Onewheel is remembering that it's electric. In other words, it's balancing for you, so you don't have to try as hard as you think you do.

"It's honestly easier if you sort of just give yourself to the Onewheel," Mudd said.

It's a gift that doesn't come cheap, though.

They're selling pre-orders for $1,300 and up as part of a Kickstarter campaign. They're hoping to ship the first batch in September.

They say it's far more than just a toy. It has a top speed of 12 miles an hour, a three to four mile range, and a 20-minute charge time.

"You hop off the train and you take this a mile or two to your work or your school," Doerksen said.

Commuting, on one wheel.


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