For almost a decade before Kyle Doerksen founded Future Motion in 2013, he worked at global design firm IDEO as a design engineer and project manager. In between big product designs, he would dedicate his energies to pet projects at home. One of them was Onewheel, an electric skateboard with one big rubber tire in the middle of an aluminum frame and wooden deck.
Doerksen spent a year building a functional prototype in his garage during his spare time. "At first, I was building it to learn and understand the technology--trying to see if I could replicate one of my favorite feelings I experienced growing up in the Canadian Rockies, snowboarding on powder," Doerksen tells Inc. while riding on his Onewheel along the Hudson River in New York City.
In 2013, Doerksen quit IDEO to spend all of his time on his invention. Thanks to its auto-balancing system and electric motor, the Onewheel gives the feeling of snowboarding down a mountain while you're riding down the street or off-road. He went on Kickstarter in January of 2014 for help developing the project further, and the campaign raised more than six times his $100,000 goal.
How it works
Inside the hub of the wheel is an advanced electric motor equipped with an ARM processor, the same as in a smartphone, packed with six-axis motion sensors that calibrate thousands of times per second to keep the vehicle balanced. A subtle lean forward will cause it to accelerate, while a lean backward will slow you down. ("The computer makes it easy for anyone, even a first-time rider," Doerksen says.) The Onewheel can reach a speed of 15 miles per hour and cruise up to 6 to 7 miles on one charge.
The Onewheel prototype had a big lead battery that would eventually be replaced by newer and smaller lithium batteries, as well as a motor with an exposed chain drive. "The whole thing was big, clunky, and dangerous-looking," Doerksen says.
That version was three times the current Onewheel's weight of 25 pounds, but it got the job done. Doerksen was able to ride it around town, and knew for sure he was on to something when his friends asked if he could build them one, too. He started to think about how he could commercialize the design, which ultimately led him to leave his job so he could devote all of his time to the project.
At CES in 2014, his design was still rough, but the snowboard-like ride of the Onewheel captivated the media. The latest version is a refined, sleek model that's as close as anyone's gotten to the promise of hoverboards. "As our technology has advanced, we hid the mechanics deep inside, Doerksen says. "[It's] invisible to the point where people will see one on the street and wonder, 'How does that thing work?'"
Doerksen took pre-orders on Kickstarter, and the first Onewheels went on sale later in 2014. The boards are sold on the Onewheel website and at 50 specialty retailers nationwide. The hefty $1,500 price tag hasn't stopped thousands of customers from buying one, and the vehicle has even hooked riders including the stunt crew of the TV show Jackass and skateboarder Tony Hawk.
For a look at the Onewheel in action, check out the video above.