Skateboards have long been the transportation choice of many a car-less teenager, but now that an entire generation of skaters have grown into adulthood many of them have brought their boards along with them. For millions of pedestrians, a skateboard is a fun and logical option to traverse long distances quickly and avoid the frustrations of gridlocked traffic or overcrowded and inefficient public transportation. So it was only a matter of time before there were attempts to improve or enhance the skateboard riding experience, and some of those enhancements could possibly lead to some rather incredible advances for people dependent on mobility assistance devices.
Electric skateboards aren’t a new product–they have been around for years–however, they can sometimes be difficult to control. Often they are made for sportsmen and professional riders and consist of little more than a board with a small motor attached to it. That can be dangerous for someone who is new or only moderately skilled at riding a board, and in fact many municipalities have even banned the devices on city streets and sidewalks.
Faraday Motion is a collection of engineers, makers, and researchers from Denmark, Poland, Sweden, and the US who want innovate the personal mobility device. They are currently developing an open platform, modular personal electric vehicle that can be moved via a motion control smartphone app. The prototype is based on a standard skateboard, but they have completely stripped most of it away and loaded it with small motors and an entire array of new, 3D printed parts and components. A simple smartphone application controls the device’s speed and direction and based on the rider’s hand movements, and the maximum speed can be preset before the board is used.
In 2013, the head of Faraday Motion’s business strategy and software team, Sune Pedersen, was dealing with an old knee injury and continuing pain and mobility issues, so he decided to see if he could create a new type of urban transportation. He based his prototype on components designed in Tinkercad and used an Onda Motion Core skateboard for its oversized wheels and durable composite plastic body. While a skateboard may not be the ideal mobility assistance device, the technology being developed can be implemented in a variety of assistance devices.
“I do not think that an electric skateboard is the perfect way of transportation for everyone. But the technology we are using; compact batteries, high power motors and advanced computers with intelligent software interacting with a range of sensors and user inputs, can be applied to a range of totally different personal transportation devices not yet seen before. 3d printing combined with our technology will make it easy to quickly invent totally new vehicle types, you could i.e. use our technology to make grandmothers walker electric or even design something innovative from scratch that would look way cooler than anything out there,” explained Pedersen.
Because Pedersen’s prototype was created using custom designed, modular 3D printed parts his first prototype is still in use, though he has significantly modified it 15 times or so. While he has at this point finally created a second, more advanced prototype, the first remains in use today for developing new features and testing. You can see some video of his prototype and the control application in action here:
One of Pedersen’s biggest hurdles wasn’t actually the development of his prototype–it was his ability to access the type of equipment that he would traditionally use in the process. Because he lives in a large metropolitan city in Denmark where space is at a premium, he didn’t have the space or access to use standard tooling and fabrication machinery, so he turned to 3D printing to fill in the gaps. Almost every part on his prototype was designed in 123D Design and 3D printed on his Ultimaker 2. All of his custom electronic components were designed using 123D Circuits, an Autodesk program that allows users to design and simulate their electronics projects virtually. This allowed him to complete his prototype almost entirely in his living room.
Here is a video of Faraday Motion’s latest 3D printed prototype being tested in front of Autodesk’s Pier 9 location in San Francisco:
Pedersen and the rest of the Faraday Motion team are expected to be showing off their latest electric skateboard this month at the Autodesk booth at the Bay Area Maker Faire on May 16th and 17th. What do you think of the possibilities of a customizable, 3D printable mobility device? Let us know on our Faraday Motion Electric Skateboard Prototype forum thread at 3DPB.com.