An electric skateboard is a personal transporter based on a skateboard. The speed is controlled by a hand-held throttle or weight-shifting and the direction of travel is adjusted by tilting the board to one side or the other.
Modern electric devices
Louie Finkle of Seal Beach, California is often cited as an originator of the modern electric skateboard, offering his first wireless electric skateboard in 1997 and a patent filed in April 1999, however it was not until the 2004–2006 that electric motors and batteries were available with sufficient torque and efficiency to power boards effectively.
In 2012, ZBoard,raised nearly 30 times their target for a balance controlled electric skateboard on Kickstarter, which was well received at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2013. Their 2015 campaign on Indiegogo was 86 time over-subscribed, raising $1 million.
Design and operation
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It was originally designed for local transport, but now offer a more serious "Off Road" model as a new thrill sport. The Off Road style boards are able to traverse grass, gravel, dirt and hard sand with ease and are often seen at low tide on the beach.
The basic design of an electric skateboard consists of an electric motor (out-runner or hub), batteries, speed controller (often the specially designed VESC), and a wireless throttle on top of a regular skateboard, longboard or other variant (e.g. penny board, mountain board).
Electric skateboard motors can be divided into two groups:
- Hub motors – More affordable and easier to maintain, hub motors are built directly into the wheels so they produce less torque.
- Out-runner motors – Noisier, more mechanically complex and more expensive than hub motors, belt drives produce more torque which also makes them more energy-efficient.
The out-runner motor uses a belt and pulley system which drives the wheel. Because of this, different sized pulleys can be used to gear the drive system. Popular boards like the Boosted Board Plus use this type of motor system. Hub motors are incorporated into the wheel hubs themselves, which give a smaller overall footprint. Hub motors are often used in smaller electric skateboards. The Inboard M1 is an example of hub motor use.
Electric skateboards are able to travel at high speeds, as well as go off-road. The stability, in turn, is determined by a couple of key deck features:
- Length – Achieving high speed almost always requires the use of a longboard. The longer the deck is, the more stable the skateboard will be.
- Wheelbase – The term wheelbase describes the length between a parallel pair of wheels. As you would expect, wider wheelbases provide better weight distribution.
- Flexibility – Flexibility is the deck's ability to absorb shocks and, unfortunately, has a negative impact on the unit's stability. Downhill racers require stiffer decks. Casual commuters should choose something in between.
Speed Controller and VESC
All electric skateboards need an electronic speed controller (ESC) in order to vary the speed of the motor for accelerating or braking. The rise of hobbyists building their own electric skateboards meant demand for a more functional and specific ESC. The VESC (which stands for Vedder Electronic Speed Controller) is a more advanced ESC which allows for features such as better motor and battery protection, regenerative braking, programming options like acceleration and deceleration curves, and other advanced features. Previously these hobbyists had been using RC ESCs which were not as robust. Not every VESC is equal though, as Benjamin Vedder designed the blueprints as an open source project. Companies selling the VESC have modified and improved on these original blueprints.
Many electric skateboards can reach speeds of over 20 mph (32 kph), with many (including D.I.Y electric skateboards) heading up towards 30 mph (48 kph). Although many boards have brakes, they are not as efficient as brakes found on other personal transporters like a bicycles.
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