In the clamor to create newer and more interesting hoverboard designs, more and more challengers seemed to be throwing their names into the hat for a chance to compete near the end of 2015. One entrant into that arena was Hoverboard Technologies, with their on-the-nose device, simply named “Hoverboard.”
Did it actually hover? No, but it was a pretty cool concept, and while it might have been retreading some of the same ground as the Onewheel, it was interesting enough to warrant a quick look. Here’s what you should know about Hoverboard Technologies’ device and where it went after that 2015 holiday rush season.
Act I: The Classic Hoverboard
It started with Hoverboard Technologies’ Classic Hoverboard design. There sure was plenty of hype behind this idea a year or so ago. They were uploading plenty of demo videos to their YouTube page, they had a Kickstarter campaign going to raise funds, and they were encouraging people to pre-order the device from their website. Those orders were supposed to ship July 2016, at a rather hefty price tag too.
The design for Hoverboard was different than the two-wheeled self-balancing scooters. This, as they described it, was a “one-wheeled, gyro-stabilized personal electric vehicle” that looked more like a skateboard than a Segway without its handlebar.
You can read more about how it works from their Kickstarter page, but the gist was this: the deck (and, by extension, the rider) are propelled by a “Drive Unit,” the detachable wheel in the center of the device. There are sensors that can determine when a rider is on the board, and using their body weight, the rider can shift to control the board. Certain varieties of the board even had sonar modules to assist with stabilizing the board, and to anticipate obstacles that could impede the ride and compensate appropriately.
Hoverboard Technologies was selling three versions of their Classic Hoverboard, a Lite model, a Semi model, and the Full model. As you can probably guess, the difference between each was the power and features each iteration was capable of (and the price, too, we’ll get to that).
The Lite model was pretty barebones, with one battery, a six-mile range, and a top speed of 12 MPH. The Semi upped the game, adding an extra battery, increasing the range to twelve miles, the top speed to 16 MPH, and including a sonar sensor. The Full model had all of this, but also two sonar sensors and the ability to play music through Bluetooth speakers.
Sounds cool enough, but the price, as we mentioned, was quite high. Pre-orders for the Lite model were going for $2,995. The Semi was priced at $3,495, and the Full was $3,995. That’s quite a bit more than the normal self-balancing scooters you’d see, which are priced at a few hundred dollars in most cases.
Apparently, the cost was high enough for the company to release a rather detailed blog post justifying it. They cited the quality, performance, user serviceability, future proofing, and service as the main reasons for the cost, then ended the post with a quick jab characterizing other hoverboard designs as toys:
“While expensive, the Hoverboard is actually affordable to the millions of people in the US alone. There are just two major things working against it. First, people think it is related to popular ~$600 toys out there called “Hoverboards” and second, even though it offers the practicality of being a “Last Mile” solution, that role could be filled by other products costing as little as $1,500, so it really is a purely “luxury” (right word??) item, maybe better described as a purely “discretionary” item. To put it into more perspective, though, a Fully Loaded Hoverboard is 1/3 the cost of a Jet-Ski, and half the price of a low-end Snow Mobile.”
It sounds like they knew their design was out of most people’s price range, and the idea seems to have petered out after late 2015/early 2016. The Kickstarter campaign failed. They only reached $257,275 of their $500,000 goal. The “order now” links on their site don’t take you anywhere, and the company went dark on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.
After a May 24, 2016, post about their being featured in Design World (in which they lamented being lumped in with “two-wheeled knock-offs”) they posted nothing about Hoverboard for months. Was this the end of the road?
Act II: The GeoBlade
After months of silence, Hoverboard Technologies re-emerged at CES 2017 in January to show off a new model, the GeoBlade, “the future of personal urban mobility.” In essence, it was the same as the Hoverboard Classic, with the board design, central Drive Unit, and flashing lights.
The GeoBlade includes some improvements that allow it to navigate more easily, specifically, a now pneumatic tire that enables better riding up hills and around the streets.
The range for the GeoBlade is still purported to be an impressive 10 miles, and the max speed is still set at 16 mph. The major difference with GeoBlade is the price, a much more affordable $1,500. How did they cut the costs? By sending manufacturing overseas:
“To shave the price down, Bigler had to give up on manufacturing the personal electric vehicle in the U.S. The GeoBlade, like so many technology products, will instead be produced in China.”
They insist that making the boards in China won’t compromise the quality of the device, and they’ve taken precautions to prevent mishaps by removable batteries instead of built-in batteries.
The company seems to understand that there’s a large swath of public opinion against anything having to do with “hoverboards” because of the continuous reporting of fires and explosions from cheaper models. As Hoverboard Technologies CEO Robert Bigler noted in that Daily Mail piece, “it’s going to take some time to win back public trust.”
The GeoBlade was set to come out in March 2017. So, where is it?
Act III: The Future
You still can’t purchase one yet. There’s no listing for it on Hoverboard Technologies’ website, and no word on when it will be released, and no new announcements from the company’s Facebook or Twitter feeds as of yet. This isn’t to say that the idea is scrapped, mind you. They did make a splash at the World’s Fair Nano in January, and they’ve not said anything about ditching the project either.
Though it’s not certain if the idea will catch fire in the way the company is hoping, the technology behind it is fun to think about, and they do seem to be making a genuine effort to refine the board to both function better and be more affordable to the masses. Maybe we’ll see these become more commonplace in years to come?