It's hard not to do a double-take when first laying eyes on the Onewheel. After all, it is a single-wheeled skateboard that uses an electric motor, accelerometers, gyros and a microcontroller to give riders a smooth, self-balancing ride. The contraption's creator, Kyle Doerksen, brought a prototype by the Engadget trailer here at CES, and we couldn't resist putting it through its paces. Although the unit we played with was a pre-production model that still needs refining, you can color us very impressed.
If the sight of a metal frame, wooden deck and a chunky go-kart wheel didn't convey a sense of great build quality, laying hands on (and picking up) the 25-pound package drives home its heavy-duty nature. When it comes to speed, the deck can go as fast as 12 MPH, but Doerksen tells us its acceleration is software-limited to allow for better self-balancing (and maybe even to protect users from overdoing it). As for range, Onewheel can go from four to six miles on a single charge thanks to a lithium battery, and it can be juiced up in two hours -- or 20 minutes with an "ultra" charger. What's more, the gadget sports regenerative braking to recoup roughly 30 percent of expended energy. Unfortunately, the device only has about 20 minutes worth of ride time in its battery, though that changes with terrain and personal driving style.
Riding the board for the first time feels a lot like learning how to use a bicycle. The first few tries weren't much more than attempting to maintain balance while stationary, but I managed to stay planted and mobile much longer with each try. It might sound strange to have trouble keeping your balance on a self-balancing skateboard, but the board's chops truly shine once you get going. Tilt forward or backward ever so slightly (while holding down a silver button with your foot) to start moving in one direction, and lean even further to pick up speed. Turning is also a matter of throwing a bit of weight in the direction you wish to go. The hefty tire gives the board a smooth ride -- which Doerksen likens more to snowboarding than skateboarding -- even making for a fluid cruise on cracked and uneven asphalt.
After spending a few minutes with Onewheel, it became abundantly clear that it's fun to master and presumably an even bigger blast when you become an expert. This editor certainly didn't want his cruising to end. You can snag your own board this September by kicking in at least $1,300 to the project's ongoing (and already successful) Kickstarter campaign.