If you grew up in the '80s or '90s, you might have been lucky enough to own a Power Wheels car. Even if you didn't, anyone who watched TV knew the jingle. (You're probably humming it right now.) But Power Wheels are slow and not intelligent. The Arrow Smart-Kart from Actev Motors, available today, tackles some of those shortcomings. It's faster and WiFi-connected, and it has the expertise of Nest co-founder Tony Fadell behind it. But even though Fadell has been talking about building a car for a while now, the Arrow is aimed squarely at kids and their parents. Kids will appreciate the thrill of driving their own mini electric car while adults will relish the control the Arrow app gives them. Parents can set limits on the kart at the tap of a screen, making desperate screams at their offspring to "slow down!" no longer necessary.
At first glance, the Arrow looks like a standard go-kart, with four wheels, a low profile and controls that include a steering column and gas and brake pedals. It's pretty close to a real driving experience, and it's all powered by a Lithium-ion battery that can be recharged from a wall outlet. This makes it a lot safer than standard gas-powered go-karts and easier than even Power Wheels. As a child I remember seeing plenty of dead vehicles sitting in my neighbors' backyards, gathering leaves from disuse.
Of course, part of the fun of having a go-kart is tailoring it to your own sense of style, which is why Actev sells body kits. You can trick out the vehicle to look like a Formula racer, with other vehicle styles planned down the line (but none announced at this time). The wheels and steering are designed to be customizable too. Right now the one accoutrement you can add is a pair of drift rings over the rear tires, which will reduce friction and allow children to imitate drifting techniques from movies like The Fast and the Furious.
I didn't get to see any drifting in action, but I did get to watch one of the Arrow karts zip around an indoor studio. The young driver at the demo took a few laps around a large room and down an empty hall under the watchful eye of Actev Motors co-founder Dave Bell, who was able to control the vehicle's speed and gear from his phone.
Power Wheels tops out at 5 miles per hour -- slow enough for an adult to keep pace as they supervise a little kid. But it's frustrating for older children, which is why the Arrow Smart-Kart can do up to 12MPH. However, that makes it pretty easy to outpace a parent walking or jogging. With the Arrow app, however, a parent doesn't have to leave the porch to make sure their kid doesn't take it too far. The app connects to the kart via WiFi and allows an adult to limit the speed, gear and even distance.
If a driver takes the Arrow out of range, it starts to slow down, forcing the child to turn the car around and bring it back within the virtual fence if they want to get back up to full speed. And if the kid starts to get a little rough with the Arrow and steers it toward a fence or mailbox, the kart is equipped with collision-avoidance tech. It's not perfect -- the kart I saw was a bit dinged up from a mishap involving a pillar -- but it's lot more protection than, say, a bike would offer. However, the company still recommends kids wear a helmet while operating the kart.
Though the Arrow Smart-Kart is best suited for kids ages five through eight, that doesn't mean older children or even adults can't cram into the seat. I did, though not easily. It required a bit of contortion to get my legs under the steering wheel, but once seated I was mostly fine. Mostly.
A top speed of 12MPH doesn't sound like a lot, but it feels swift when you're actually riding the thing, because it accelerates quickly. As I've previously admitted, I don't actually know how to drive, so I was a bit cautious at first, hitting the gas for short bursts. The steering wheel requires some effort to turn, which is good because it means your kids can't accidentally go off course; they have to make a deliberate decision to turn left or right. In my case, I found I didn't turn quickly enough inside the studio, which left me having to back up to course-correct often. While gear changes can be made through the app, reverse can also be enabled by double-tapping the brake while fully stopped.
Gallery: Arrow Smart-Kart press images and app | 7 Photos
It was fun to ride around in the Arrow, although my adult-length legs were less thrilled. (I later had a hard time getting out of the vehicle as well.) It's probably best to leave this to the kids. But with a single kart costing $1,000 on Actev Motors' website, you're still going to need adult funds to handle the payment. That's way more than Power Wheels or even the mini Tesla S will run you, but neither of those choices is as speedy or smart. The only thing the Arrow Smart-Kart needs now is a catchy jingle.
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