Designed by Faraway electric bicycle designer and former IDEO employee Kyle Doerksen (he left his design job there in July to focus on this) the Onewheel self-balancing skateboard is a study in simple vehicle design.
It has only one moving part: its wheel. It has a custom-made 500-watt electric motor inside it, and a surprisingly "ideal" tire from a high performance go-kart wrapped around it. A tiny gyroscopic sensor taken out of a smart phone senses your lean angle as you stand, adjusting the motor's speed to keep you from doing a face plant on the sidewalk. Onewheel's older cousin, the Segway scooter, used expensive sensors and gears to do that job.
In the Old Middlefield Way parking lot of his company headquarters, Future Motion CEO Doerksen floated around like Marty McFly in "Back to the Future" on a Onewheel prototype, which he's been working on for four years. The trick, he said, is learning to trust it as you lean forward to make it go — up to 12 miles per hour — and lean back to slow or stop.
The prototype doesn't like nervous movements, though. Doerksen said improvements may soon make it more beginner-friendly. Twice this reporter was sent flying off the front when its nose dug into the ground, though thankfully not to meet the asphalt. Others have apparently mastered it, as evidenced in a video of posted in OneWheel's Kickstarter campaign. Doerksen says that most people can learn to ride it in a few minutes.
Onewheel has proven a very successful Kickstarter fund-raising campaigns, meeting its $100,000 goal in a single week. As of Jan. 13, nearly 100 people committed to one of the boards, which are not cheap at $1,299 for the standard version. More than $146,000 has been raised to help Doerksen hire some employees and get the boards to production.
"People are definitely having an emotional response to it," Doerksen said, reflecting on its popularity online.
Doerksen said its intended use is "recreational transportation." At 25 pounds, it can be taken onto a bus or train and used for the "last mile" of a commute. One skilled skateboarder has already learned to do a 180 degree flip with it.
Onewheel was a favorite at the International CES trade show in Las Vegas last week, where tech journalists praised its design. As for its aesthetics, some of those with more modern tastes have asked, "Does it have to have wood on the top?' and Doerksen's response is a certain yes. "We're tying into the whole wood thing" on skateboards, snowboards and surfboards, Doerksen said. While there isn't much to Onewheel, it has "a very California aesthetic" with a tiny bit of the aerospace industry, skateboard and hot rod aesthetics mixed in.
Given the price, you probably won't be buying one for your kid's next birthday. Doerksen said the plan has always been to introduce a "high-end" product, and develop a cheaper version later. A pricier $1,399 model is most popular so far and comes with a charger that will fill the batteries in only 20 minutes, instead of two hours for the standard-issue charger. The 48-volt lithium phosphate battery has a 4-6 mile range and is rated for more than 1,000 cycles of charging and discharging.
It should also be noted that Doerksen plans to manufacture the boards somewhere on the West Coast, probably in California.