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​Well Balanced: hands-on with the final version of the Onewheel skateboard

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When Kyle Doerksen brought his electric skateboard to CES last year, it looked like he stole a balancing prop from a local circus act. The Onewheel is the very image of its name: a single tire flanked by two wooden platforms. It almost looks threatening, but balancing on it is deceptively easy: The Onewheel uses a combination of accelerometers and gyro sensors to balance itself, which lets the rider focus on, well, riding. The board Doerksen showed us in January was a prototype, though -- recently, we caught up with the inventor to try out the final, factory-produced version of the electric ridable.

Doerksen tells me that prototype he showed Engadget at CES 2014 used a lot of off-the-shelf components, including a motor controller that was designed for robotics, not ridables. The new, final version of the Onewheel uses a custom-designed, trapezoidal control board that offers more control over the board's speed, range and regenerative brakes. Doerksen tells me this improved the board's automatic balance compensation, and mitigated some of the wobbling problems new riders had the first time they stepped on the board. As a new rider myself, I was eager to try this out -- though Doerksen still made me hold on to his shoulders the first time I mounted the board.


The Onewheel is actually quite smart about how its rider mounts: Placing your front foot on the board's highlighted "rider detect" area and tipping the platform to a horizontal position automatically engages the gyroscopic control. The slight jolt of the engine is reassuring, and I found the board was almost impossible to tip over after the gyro sensors started their work. The board does have a learning curve -- it's unnerving to tilt forward on one wheel and not fall, and it feels unnatural at first, but it only took me about five minutes to adjust.

Although riding became easy with practice, it's definitely not as thoughtless as pushing off of a skateboard. That "rider detect" area I mentioned only covers a very specific area of the board's front panel, and I found it easy to slip off the spot and disengage the Onewheel's autobalancing. Still, the horizontal stripe is larger than the detection mechanism on the prototype, which was a physical button. The final production unit has a few other features, too: It features LEDs on either end of the board that indicate forward or backward movement (a stretch goal) and a more powerful motor than the original prototype featured. It's also completely waterproof, meaning you can charge through puddles without fear.

Doerksen says that most Kickstarter awards and pre-orders will arrive before the end of the year, and tells me that they hope to be shipping new orders from stock this January. Want one? You can buy one directly from the company's website for $1,499. It's not cheap, but it's a lot more affordable than a hoverboard -- and you don't need a copper surface to use it, either.

Jonathan Hall contributed to this post

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