Ever since the likes of Back To The Future graced our screens, generations of kids have expected to be able to have their own hover boards when they grow up and have accordingly been disappointed. While hover boards might not yet quite be a reality, the Onewheel is probably the closest we’re going to get in our generation offering a smooth, 12 miles per hour ride on a rechargeable platform. The Onewheel is currently available to pre-order through Kickstarter from just $1,299 (£733 €880) with completion estimates for September 2014.
While it might look visually similar, the riding experience of Onewheel is very different to that of a skateboard where you feel every little bump in the road due to the small rigid plastic wheels. The Onewheel has a comparatively chunky rubber tyre which absorbs all the shocks and makes it feel like you’re really hovering. The tyre used is actually a race quality go-kart wheel which is essentially just a scaled down F1 tyre. The Onewheel frame is machined from billet 6061 aluminium and the decks on which you stand are composed of Canadian maple, the same material that high end skateboards are currently made from.
People who have tried the Onewheel liken riding it to being more like snowboarding, surfing or indeed hovering than to skateboarding. This is due to the smooth ride the tyre offers but also the way in which the central motor effortlessly propels the Onewheel in a similar way to gravity on a mountain slope or a wave on a beach. There’s no need to push yourself along like with a skateboard and the way you simply lean into the bends feels like carving lines in fresh powder on a snowboard.
Keeping the board level on a single wheel might at first glance look tricky but the Onewheel is a self-balancing device and can apparently be learnt in minutes. It is controlled in a similar way to Segways by leaning forward to accelerate and back to decelerate. Differential steering is of course impossible with only one wheel so the Onewheel relies on you to lean into corners to steer like in snowboarding or skateboarding. Apparently the turning circle of the device is so small that you can do 360 degrees within the length of the board itself so I’m guessing the tyre must be pretty soft to allow this.
The Onewheel is propelled by a direct drive brushless motor which Future Motion have been developing over the past 3 years. During development phases, they found themselves continually simplifying the motor to the extent that it now has just one moving part – the wheel itself – so there’s very little that can go wrong with it as there are no gears or chains. The motor runs on a cutting edge 48V Lithium Nano-phosphate battery which can power the Onewheel for a distance of 4-6 miles depending on the terrain. This should be adequate for most people’s commutes (or at least journey to the train station) and could revolutionise our cities.
As mentioned you simply tilt the Onewheel back to slow down and stop but in doing so you’re also subtly recharging the battery. The Onewheel makes use of what is known as regenerative braking so the force of stopping is conserved and some of the lost momentum energy goes back into the battery. When recharging from a wall outlet, times vary between 20 minutes and 2 hours depending on whether you opt for the fast or standard chargers.
The project has already hit its crowdfunding target by more than double at the time of writing and Onewheel have set out further stretch goals on Kickstarter if the final amount raised reaches certain levels. If it hits $300,000 the Onewheel will receive integrated LED lighting and if it hits $400,000 then accompanying iOS and Android apps will be written which could enable GPS, speed limiting, locking and different riding modes.
Personally I think they should add the integrated LED lighting regardless of whether they reach $300,000 (although it looks like they’re going to) as it’s a much needed safety feature for small personal vehicles such as bicycles which offer minimal physical protection to their users. This could be a particular concern for currently unheard of modes or transport such as the Onewheel which drivers might not be consciously aware of to look out for at the moment.
These kind of features such as LED lighting and a proposed wheel guard could show local authorities that the company takes road safety seriously and help with the legality, adoption and perhaps even encouragement of devices like Onewheel.
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