I'm something of an electric skateboard veteran. Last year at CES I rode the Board of Awesomeness, an electric skateboard that uses a Kinect and a Windows 8 tablet to function. This year at CES I had the opportunity to ride the ZBoard; an electric skateboard that works like a Segway — leaning forward makes you accelerate, and leaning back slows you down. The ZBoard is yet another Kickstarter success we've seen here at CES 2013, and it blew my mind.
The ZBoard deck is made from high-quality maple wood and has clear griptape. The pro model (version I rode) costs $950, weighs 27 lbs. and has a range of 10 miles thanks to its Lithium Iron Phosphate battery that will charge in five hours. In terms of design and hardware, the ZBoard includes solid rubber wheels, which work best on concrete, soft bushings for easy carving, and headlights and taillights.
they may have struck gold with their idea
But perhaps even more interesting than the board itself is the story of its origin. During their senior year at USC, engineering students Jeff Larson and Ben Forman decided to design an electric skateboard for a class project because getting around campus simply sucked. Lugging around and locking up bikes wasn't ideal, and finding a place to park a car was always an issue. They created a prototype design that served as a viable means of transportation and was portable enough to take with them to class. Jeff and Ben got an A on the project and started to realize that they may have struck gold with their idea.
After three years of tweaking and iterating on the original design, they launched a Kickstarter campaign in hopes of raising a modest $10,000 to deliver 25 boards to backers. A little over a month later, Jeff and Ben's project amassed nearly $300,000 in funding, amounting to some 400 boards. What began as an electric skateboard for fringe enthusiasts had very obviously turned into something much bigger.
Neither of your feet ever have to leave the board
I've been skateboarding for nearly a decade, so naturally I thought I'd be able to hop on the board and ride away. That wasn't the case. There's definitely a learning curve, even for an experienced skater like myself, because unlike riding a regular skateboard that requires you to push with one foot, the ZBoard works by shifting your weight. Neither of your feet ever have to leave the board, which is strange — it actually feels very akin to surfing once you're in motion.
After about 10 minutes of tweaking my stance and balance I was cruising at 17 mph around the parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center with ease. In order to turn, I had to shift my weight back to slow the board down, and then lean in whichever direction I wanted to go. Slowing down is done by shifting your weight toward the back, and the ZBoard features regenerative breaking so I didn't fly off the board when I applied the brake. The biggest difference between the ZBoard and a traditional skateboard (besides the fact that you don't have to pump) is that I put most of my weight toward the front of the ZBoard.
I felt like I was from the future
Ever since I saw Back to the Future II I've been waiting for a hoverboard to come into existence. It may sound insane and crazy, but I think the ZBoard is one step closer to that reality. As I cruised around the parking lot effortlessly, I attracted a lot of attention. People didn't seem to understand the physics of it. I felt like I was from the future.
The ZBoard isn't as clunky as most electric bikes and scooters since it was designed by skateboarders for skateboarders. It's not only the most well-designed motorized skateboard I've seen but it's portable and can substitute for a bike without question. Whereas you might feel like a fool riding around campus on a Segway, you'll feel like a badass on the ZBoard — trust me.