Pragmatic 86: Segway Evolution

4 May, 2018


Self-balancing vehicles started with the Segway in 2001, but since then they’ve evolved, losing their handle bars and even losing a wheel. We look at how they’ve evolved over time, how safe they are and how potentially crazy John is, since he’s started riding one.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. By exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. This episode is sponsored by Makers for Good and their impressive Helio solar-powered light, flashlight and power bank that's perfect for camping, hiking, emergencies as a night light or for wherever your adventures may take you. We'll talk more about them during the show. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page and for other great shows visit today. I'm your host, John Chidjie, and today I'm joined by Vic Hudson. How's it going, Vic? It is going. How's it going with John? Yeah, it's going pretty good because I have been itching to talk about this topic for quite a while and some people may laugh. In fact, I suspect some will and that's okay. It's fine. I can take it. Maybe that comment will make sense in about 20 minutes. But for the beginning, last episode when we spoke, we talked about multimodal transportation and And we talked a little bit about Segways. Well, I actually wanted to do an entire episode on Segways, mainly because I think they're cool and because I'm kind of riding one every now and then, like every day. So without further ado, let's dive in. When I talk about Segways and the evolution of Segways, what I'm really talking about is self-balancing devices, not electric skateboards or powered long boards. devices that balance themselves and not electric kick scooters either. So those are the ones that are like, it's a scooter, but it looks like a kick scooter, but it's got a battery and a motor and it's powered. Right. Right. So I'm not talking about them either. I'm talking about once it balanced themselves. So you push a magic button to turn it on and then it magically stays upright. And you're like, wow, it's a staying upright anyway. All right. So it all started way back in the nineties, like so many things, well, actually not that many things. Anyway, back in 1990, there was this thing called the iBot, lowercase i, uppercase B-O-T, anyway. And the second one- - Was it an Apple device? - Alas, no, it wasn't, it wasn't, no. So a guy called Dean Kamen, he partnered up with Decker and Johnson & Johnson to develop and produce the iBot. And the iBot, 'cause the name doesn't really tell you hold a lot is actually a wheelchair that can climb stairs. Now, I don't know if you've seen one of these things or not, but it's kind of like a wheelchair with a series of two or three, like two larger wheels and a smaller wheel on a hinge mechanism at the bottom. And it actually allows people to, like it locks into stairs and can actually crawl upstairs very gradually like a think of it like the stairs are the teeth in the gears and this thing is basically stepping up those gears those teeth uh it can also visualizing a triangle with smaller triangles attached at each point kind of like that but the triangles that it that it touches the ground with are actually wheels not triangles but yes kind of like that but the point is it can also lift the chair up so the person sitting on it can look into the eyes of an average person of average height, which is also cool. So yeah. Now, the first prototypes of the iBot were, it was about 1992, but it was announced on Dateline publicly in 1999. At that point, 50 million US dollars had been sunk into developing this thing, and it wasn't actually approved by the FDA four years after that. So during the development of that technology, they also worked on a non-medical product that used some of the same technology, the self-balancing aspects. And this came to be known as the Segway Scooter. So Segway Incorporated was founded in July, 1999 to focus on the non-medical application, specifically of the self-balancing tech that they developed for the iBot. Now Segway Incorporated has a little bit of an interesting history. So the Segway PT or personal transporter It was a two-wheeled mobility platform, literally a platform that joins two wheels, that's got a central post and a handlebar at the top you can hold onto. It was released in December of 2001, but it was a few months before delivery started getting to customers. And initially, the company predicted there were going to be 40,000 unit sales per year. They made that prediction in December of 2001. So they revised this to between 50 to 100,000 units to the end of 2002. So yeah, big numbers, right? Unfortunately, reality was not so kind. And by 2003, they'd only sold 6,000 of them. To be honest, I'm impressed they sold 6,000. Not so good. By September of 2006, nearly five years later after it had launched, they'd only sold 23,500 globally. It did not take the world by storm. It did not. No, it did not. Definitely not. So, in a huge loss of trust, Segway had to recall every single one of them to fix a firmware issue with the personal transporters where they could end up going in reverse unintentionally, which could lead to rider injury. So that didn't help either. In 2007, an estimated $100 million USD had been invested solely developing the Segway PT models, and the resulting sales indicated that the company was struggling financially, despite the fact they claimed they weren't. In March of 2009, Segway Inc. claimed it had then shipped over 50,000 units, which is about 6,000, 6,500 a year average. So, really not that great and not much acceleration, if any, from the first year it was on sale. In 2010, Segway Incorporated was bought by a group of partners that were led by a British entrepreneur, Jimmy Heselden. Now, he unfortunately died in September that same year, and he fell victim to injuries he sustained from falling off a cliff whilst ironically writing a segue. You can't make that sort of thing up, I mean you can, but no one would dare make that up. Unbelievably true. And how's that for irony for you? I remember reading about it when it happened. So anyway, there you have it. In February 2013, a company called Summit Strategic Investments LLC acquired Segway Incorporated from the British partners and in September 2014, it filed an infringement notice with the US International Trade Commission over patent breaches by several China-based manufacturers including Inmotion, Robstep Robot and Ninebot. Now perhaps not too coincidentally, the following April Segway Inc. was acquired by Ninebot Inc. and Ninebot had just raised at that point $80 million in capital between Xiaomi and Sequoia Capital in Silicon Valley. You can read into that whatever you like but that's just like well you can't have a patent breach if we own you. That's one way to make it go away. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Ay yi yi. Anyway. So why am I carrying on about Segway Incorporated specifically? Now the timeline matters because effectively the Segway PT was where it all started. But once it did start, others took that idea and tweaked it and ran with it. Well, to varying degrees. So in 2004, a guy called Trevor Blackwell, some people will remember him as the co-founder of Y Combinator, now he developed an open source, single wheel, electric unicycle he called the E-unicycle. So it's just the word unicycle with an E in front? Yeah, anyway, not a great name. It was never turned into a commercial product but he proved it could be done. Focus Designs however, was now incorporated in 2007 and between VC funding and an appearance on Shark Tank, they released their self-balancing unicycle with a seat on it in October of 2008. Their product name was the SBU, Self Balancing Unicycle. Again, not a catchy name, but anyway, it's been through three generations. Their final unit, the SBU V3, yeah that's the self-balancing unicycle version 3, again big on the naming, sold for $1,795 US, which is considerably less than a Segway, because as we talked about last time, Segway, the i2 commuter models, they weigh in at about $6,000. This thing was a bargain at that kind of price. It went zero to 10 miles an hour, which is zero to 16 kilometers an hour in three seconds, which is pretty good. Top speed of 12 and a half miles an hour, which is 20 kilometers an hour. And same as a Segway, and range of about 30 miles or 48 kilometers. And it weighed only 12 kilograms, which is 27 pounds. So Focus Designs also contributed to the development of the Solo Wheel. The electric unicycle without a seat. And that's sort of the iconic thing that we know today as an EUC or an electric unicycle. Now that was developed primarily by a man by the name of Sean Chen. And he patented his solo wheel in March of 2010. Now Chen is one of those really prolific inventors, especially in the space of self-balancing devices. He also developed orbital wheel skates, ultra drainer, lunar cycle, and the more well-known hover tracks. And the hover tracks was actually licensed to Razor, R-A-Z-O-R. They also make scooters, like push scooters. And my kids have actually got quite a few Razor scooters, right? And these are non-electric scooters, just normal scooters. Now the hover tracks in particular was heavily cloned by Chinese manufacturers. When Chen was so offended, he actually went to China personally just prior to Christmas in 2015 to see it for himself. Now, the Hovertrack sold for about $1,000 US, and at that point, they'd only sold a few thousand units. Now, the Chinese knockoff models, if you'd like, they'd made more than a million already by that point at a fraction of the price. So in this interview, there's a link in the show notes if you're interested, it's an interesting read. Chen was quoted as saying, "The Hovertrax to me, it's just a toy." But obviously a very popular one. So that's the majority of the history covering about people and key companies along the way, but then there's different costs and trends just worth mentioning. One of the things that's brought the prices down has been the falling prices of lithium batteries. So, most of these EUCs and hoverboards have LifePo4 batteries, which is not a word, that's actually its chemical formula. Lithium, iron, phosphorus, oxygen for... Oh, God. Just wrangled it. Just ran straight off the tongue. Yeah, LifePo4. Anyway. Those batteries, they fell in price 80% between 2011 and 2017. That's huge. And even at those prices, the battery still accounts for between a quarter to a half of the cost of the EUC. Now because of the power to weight and the range that people typically want to use these things for, almost all EUCs use lithium batteries. They're not the same type that you use in a laptop, but they're the same ones used by Tesla and for solar, deep cycle, off-grid power backup applications. These are the serious hardcore ones as opposed to the super ultra lightweight high energy density ones. These aren't quite as high energy density as what you'll find in a mobile phone or laptop. Okay, so first of all let's talk about some of the problems with these things. And first of all the problems were the press and it came from the Chinese knockoff hoverboards almost entirely. There were some very badly built ones and cheap models that caught on fire and and burn down the house literally? (laughs) Yeah, not burn down the house in a good way. So the US Consumer Product Safety Commission in late 2015 found that manufacturing defects had led to 60 fires over 20 states in the previous year. And in July of 2016, ordered a recall of half a million units from eight different manufacturers with the Swagway X1 consisting of 267,000 recalled out of that half million figure. Ouch. Yeah, not good. Now directly as a result of this and of a handful of other incidents on airlines, airlines have essentially banned them out of fear that they will cause a fire, irrespective of whether they carry on or stowed luggage. Obviously, some airlines don't mind them, but some have banned them entirely. Some airlines on the other hand will let you take them, but they'll limit the maximum size of the battery. So, your carry-on capacity, for example, might be somewhere between 100 watt hours to 160 watt hours. That's between the IATA and the FAA. Individual airlines, of course, can have their own rules. It could be stricter. Some models feature removable batteries for airlines that have restrictions for carry-on, but not for stowed batteries. Funny thing, I'm not really sure how often this is an issue except when they're being shipped to you from overseas. It's unlikely that it's gonna be a problem for me 'cause anytime soon to be honest, and I don't know how many people travel on a plane and take their unicycles with them or their whole bags with them. - Gotta have it. - I guess so, I don't know. - Never leave home without it. - Yeah, yeah, just like an American Express card, but not. Anyhow, all right. So what are these things? And let's just, I want to be specific that I describe exactly what they are 'cause maybe some people don't know or haven't seen photos. There's links in the show notes obviously, but just to go through it audibly. A Segway is a flat, solid rectangular board that you stand on with both feet parallel next to each other with a wheel on each end of that board. In addition, there's a pole attached to the center front the board with handles between chest and shoulder height for you to hold on to with your hands. Sound like a good description of a Segway? It does. Cool. Alrighty. Hoverboards, also some people call them Swegways, which I don't really get anyway. A flat rectangular board with a hinge in the center that you stand on with both feet in parallel next to each other. foot on the left side, one foot on the right side of the center hinge, with a wheel on each end of the board. There is no pole, and the twist angle of the center pivot is about plus or minus 30 degrees, but that varies from model to model. Okay, that's a hoverboard. And no, it does not hover like Marty McFly's hoverboard did in 2015. Oh, hang on, it's 2018, and in 2015 we didn't have hoverboards like in Back to the Future, and I'm still pest. Fine. Anyway, moving on. Okay, an EUC or electric unicycle, also called a solo wheel, named after the first model that was released by Sean Chen. A single larger wheel with a fixed housing that covers the sides and top of the wheel with a pedal on either side. You stand with one foot on either side of the wheel with one foot on each pedal. There is no pole and your side to side balance is entirely your problem. Alrighty? So that's what we're talking about. So here's the interesting part about, in the last episode we talked a little bit about usability. So let's go into a bit of depth now about regulations. Where can you use these things specifically in different parts of the world? Now, the problem is that there are so many different rules around the world, I cannot possibly cover them all. And if I do, I'm sure that by the time I say them, they'll be out of date in at least one country or one province of one country or one city in one province in one country. So, I'm going to restrict myself to the local laws here in Queensland, Australia, and in the United States, and we'll pick California because, well, you know, California. All right. So, in California and the States, electrically motorized boards can be used by those over 16 years of age at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour, that's 24 k's an hour, on streets where the speed limit is under 35 miles per hour, or 56km/h now. So you can ride them on the road so long as the posted speed limit is less than 35. Riders must wear a helmet and comply with all road rules. That includes they can't have a blood alcohol reading above whatever the limit is there. Boards must be speed limited to 20 miles per hour, 32km/h. They must be designed to carry only one person, the motor must be less than a thousand watts in size, and the use of these devices on sidewalk and footpath is at the jurisdiction of cities and counties to determine. So that's California. Now, broadly speaking, around the rest of the states, segways are allowed on sidewalks in most states, though some municipalities have banned them, so that may vary. states will allow them on bicycle lanes and roads so long as the speed limit is up to 24, 25 miles per hour. But again, it varies depending upon where you are. So, that's the states and specifically California. Now, my own backyard is a little bit more precise and not precise at the same time. It's a little bit more long-winded. Okay. So, here we go. In Queensland, because in Australia we pride ourselves on legislating ourselves to death. Anyway, a personal mobility device can be used on road related areas such as paths and nature strips provided it is designed for use by a single person, is self-balancing while it is in use, is powered by an electric motor, has two wheels that operate on a single axis, so straight away, whoops, that doesn't cover electric unicycles. It has a control to speed limit to 12 kilometers an hour or less. Notice the wording, it has to have a control to limit the speed, it doesn't say it has to be applied. It has a maximum speed of 20 kilometers per hour. Well, if I have a maximum speed of 50 kilometers an hour, but I set the speed limit to 20 kilometers an hour, that means I have a maximum speed of 20 kilometers an hour. Anyway, nevermind. Has a maximum width of 850 millimeters. See, they're thinking of a Segway when they wrote this. Has a maximum weight of 60 kilograms. Again, Segways, ranging in weight between 45 to 60 kilograms. That's what they're thinking off when they wrote this. It's almost like they took the spec sheet of a segue and then just copied it out and said, "Yep, that's legislation, baby." Anyway. As you do. Yeah, some people do, badly. Anyway, so children under 12 must not use a personal mobility device at any time. When using a personal mobility device, you must be supervised by an adult if you are between 12 and 15 years of age. You must wear an approved bicycle helmet that is securely fitted. You must keep left on paths, obviously if we're in the States it'd be keep right. You must give ways to pedestrians on paths, keep left, you know if the States it'd be keep right, anyway, of oncoming bicycles and other personal mobility devices on the path. You must have a working warning device such as a bell or horn. So, yeah, oops, these don't. Unicycles and Segways don't have horns or bells. Whoops. They must have a working flashing or steady white light on the front and a red or flashing light and reflector at the rear when traveling at night or in hazardous conditions. So, another whoops. My particular one doesn't. Now, you're allowed to stay on your personal mobility device to cross a road at designated crossings only. When you are operating a personal mobility device, you must not travel faster than 12 kilometers an hour, which is 7.5 miles per hour. So why did they say before maximum speed of 20 k's an hour? You're not allowed to travel faster than 12? Anyway, whatever. Travel along a road unless it's impractical not to or if there's an obstruction on the path or nature strip and in those cases you are allowed to travel up to 50 meters on the road. So in In other words, you can ride along the road under short distances if something like the sidewalk, if the sidewalk's closed for something, I don't know, they're excavating it or whatever, or the police have taped it off because someone beat up the other guy on the personal mobility device. Anyway, you're not allowed to use a mobile phone, a handheld mobile phone. You're not allowed to carry any passengers. You cannot drink or be under the influence of any alcohol. You cannot travel past a personal mobility devices prohibited sign. So if the sign says no PMDs, then no PMDs. Local councils or landowners may also prohibit PMDs in areas such as malls, esplanades or jetties. All right, that's it. Well, that is all for the Queensland regulations. So the one thing I want to point out though is speed limits on bike paths. Now this is an interesting bugbear of mine, right? So where there's no set speed limit specified, the speed limit defaults to 50km/h, which is about 30mph, and that's pretty fast. You know, if you're on a narrow bikeway and you're doing that kind of speed, you know, you should really be riding on a road at that sort of speed. Yeah, if you're playing it safe, you wouldn't. I mean, would you ride on a sidewalk doing 30 miles an hour on a bike? - I would not. - No, see, I wouldn't either. It's too narrow, people come out, walk out in front of you, haven't got enough time to stop, you're going too fast. So anyway, there are some roads, oh, sorry, some cycle ways, I should say, that are speed limited for that reason. So locally in Brisbane, the Story Bridge has a 20 kilometer hour speed limit, a good wheel bridge has a 10km/h speed limit. Problem is, those speed limits aren't actually enforced, so a cyclist that hits a pedestrian at 50km/h is going to do as much damage as someone riding an electric unicycle at that speed pretty much. Maybe more, because they've got a bicycle as well. Bottom line though, it's going to hurt. And yet, cyclists can go up to 50km/h, but a personal mobility device can't. can only go according to this 12 K's an hour which I don't get but anyway - It's the motor - Yeah and the motor yeah anyway okay so making it my airwheel so I actually have an airwheel an airwheel x3 so how did I make it compliant with those regulations well I did and I didn't - You got a helmet with blinking lights on it I have a helmet, yes. So I'll tell you about how I've dealt with the lights in a minute. There's no point trying to fix a bell or a sounder to the air wheel since A, it'll get broken if I fall. And yes, I still fall from time to time when this thing takes a tumble. B, if I try to lean down and reach to flick a bell to sound the bell, I'm probably just going to lose my balance and fall off anyway. So what's the point? So to overcome this, I looked into a remotely activated electronic bell, but that's kind over the top so I didn't do that. Instead I got into a standard cheap bicycle bell. I adjusted the hole size to fit my index finger and I wear that when I ride the unicycle. And I can just flick it on my index finger, easy as you like. Works fine. So no one can pull me up for not having a bell. There you go. I added some front and rear lights into the pedal holes. So the pedal has several holes in them for support. Well, not for support. weight reduction actually, but you can put small lights, think of like a narrow, like a triple A kind of diameter pencil torch. They make them specifically for these models. So I've got a couple of those for the back and a couple for the front, but because the ones for the front aren't bright enough, I also carry a torch that is fitted to my helmet. And to be perfectly honest, I got the idea from watching other cyclists. It's pretty common. Yeah. - All right. Now, in the end, it's also, I think, actually fixing it to your helmet's actually safer because it follows where your head looks. So if you turn left or right to look, then the light follows you, which is safer anyway, 'cause you can, you know, you see where you're looking. - Yeah. - All right. I've fitted some reflective tape strips to the front and rear of both the forward and side facing faces of the unicycle. So in low visibility conditions, if it's rear on or side on, the lights and the reflectors will clearly show what direction I'm oriented in. So that satisfies that one. Technically, if I make phone calls and I do sometimes, I'm using my AirPods. So technically it's not handheld, so that makes it okay. And in my state, the only law, (laughing) Deanna, in my state, the only law that I'm really slightly bending is the one wheel versus two wheel thing. And I suspect that'll be amended at some point near future as these things become more popular. 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So if you'd like to check one out, just head over to to learn more and enter the coupon code ENGINEERED for 20% off your Helio in your choice of color shipping is free anywhere in the continental United States. Thank you to Makers for Good for sponsoring the Engineered Network. Now for the interesting part before I talk about my experiences and what I've gotten why and how crazy I am apparently I want to about how it works because this is something that I find fascinating it's such a simple idea but it's it's interesting how they pull it off. So almost all electric unicycles use brushless DC motors to drive the wheels or wheel I should say and because it's a single wheel the DC motor is the actual wheel insofar as the wheel hub is the motor. So with the hub and so you don't have any gearing or anything like that so it saves a bit of weight. So with the hub the permanent magnets form either the core, otherwise known as the rotor, or in the case of hollow wheels, they form the inner ring, like some designs like the fast wheel ring or the solo wheel orbit. There's links to these in the show notes. These ones actually have a hole through the middle, so you can literally put your arm through the hole in the middle. So those look really, really cool and obviously they're lighter as well. They also have a price to match. But nevermind that. So brushless DC motors have a bunch of different names. You've got brushless permanent magnet, permanent magnet AC motors, and synchronous motors. And there's others, but those are the most common names for them. So they're essentially an inverted DC motor. So a DC motor has a rotor that spins with a series of slots on the shaft typically, and each slot has a pair of conductive pads. And those conductive pads are connected to the windings inside the rotor. So a set of brushes, and most common brush material is carbon for high power applications. And I worked on carbon brushes quite a lot when I was working in an open coal mine about 20 years ago. Changed out a few sets of those, quite a few sets of those. And the brushes connect the DC voltage to one slot at a time or two or three depending on the design but anyway, bottom line is this creates a circuit and that circuit and that current flow on that circuit creates a magnetic field in that winding in the rotor. So the permanent magnets are on the stationary part of the motor that's bolted to the ground or usually bolted to the ground. By varying the DC voltage that we apply to the rotor we can vary the strength of the magnetic field. So for a fixed load on the motor this will proportionally change the speed of the rotor. So more voltage faster it goes for the same load, less voltage the slower it goes. Now with a brushless it's kind of like that but it really completely is nothing like that. The reason that I wanted to point this out is because I'm sick of people calling brushless DC motors, DC motors. Because when I think of a DC motor, that's what I'm thinking about. I'm thinking about brushes, carbon brushes. I'm thinking about classic control, not digital control, not alternating like stepped current control. So, a brushless DC motor essentially has the magnets, the permanent magnets are actually in the rotor itself. So, the permanent magnets spin around with the motor. Now, the thing is that though, is you then have to have your electrode magnets and all your coils around the outside in the stator. And then you have to selectively turn them on and off by switching them off, playing a game of chasey, essentially. The magnetic field, think of it like you turn them on and off and you drag it around like you would, let's say you've got a magnet, a small magnet and a compass, and you're dragging that in a circular motion around and around and around and around in an endless loop. And that compass needle keeps following the magnet around the outside. So if you replace that magnet, you're dragging around the outside with a series of electromagnets, you can use a microcontroller to switch on each of those in a set sequence and drag the rotor around, playing an endless game of chasey. So I kind of find it funny that anyone dares to call a BLDC motor a DC motor. I mean, what's DC about it exactly? It's driven by a switch mode power supply, for goodness sake, you know? Anyway, let's rant over about that. So that's the motor. The rotor, fixed magnet, is connected to the wheel that turns. The stator, stationary rotor rotating, right? The stator is actually connected to the body of the electric unicycle and it doesn't move much. Well, it moves if you fall off I guess. Anyway. So the gyroscopes, that's the next part of the secret sauce. So you've got a microcontroller, you've got a brushless DC motor, you need a gyroscope. So gyroscopes typically two, hoverboards have two, one for each side. They're used to detect the angle of the wheel relative to vertical. So the funny thing about gyros is that a long time ago though these very very precise machined mechanical devices, you know operating in a vacuum, fixed environment, sealed, very very expensive, very delicate things, right? In aviation. But in more recent times, they've developed ways of doing it electronically. Basically gyroscopes have become common now in all of our smartphones. So every iPhone since the iPhone 4 has had a gyroscope in it. So the gyroscope that they use in the iPhone is generally the same kind that they use in the unicycles as well. And they're called a MEMS gyro, which is a horrible abbreviation for something that doesn't need to be abbreviated. Well, maybe it does, but it's silly. Anyway, micro electromechanical system. So, okay, whatever. It doesn't really tell me a hell of a lot. Obviously, it's electromechanical and obviously it's small because it's in an integrated circuit and I don't know what the system is telling us, but anyway, it's a MEMS. Whatever. That's just what they call them. Shrug. So, a MEMS gyro, and they can pretty accurately detect and provide a digital output for a full six axis of rotational movement. Now the problem is no matter how many gyros with how many axes you've got, the wheel only moves in one axis with two rotational movements, either twisting it forwards or backwards in one axis essentially, right? Yeah. With one wheel you can't balance left or right, you can only go forward or backwards. So you're going to correct it by correcting forwards or backwards, that's it. So how does that work? When you turn it on and there's no load on it other than its own weight for example, the gyroscope will detect how far off vertical it is. And if it's off vertical it will drive the motor very slowly forwards or backwards until it's sitting perfectly upright. When you're standing on the pedals and you're standing perfectly upright, if you lean forwards it detects that the gyroscope is now off vertical, it will then drive the wheel forward in an attempt to try and reach vertical again. So if you're not moving, the wheel rotation forward will equal the body's rotation backwards and vice versa. So ultimately the control is simple enough in theory, but of course it's really not that simple. The tricky part is actually more about how you program the feedback control loop. So all of these EUCs use a closed loop controller that I'm very familiar with because I use it all the time and I have used it for 20 years in control systems engineering. It's called a PID controller which stands for proportional integral derivative control. Now PID controllers have got a bunch of aspects to them. So PID the name of the actual tuning parameters they're referred to as. So proportional is the proportion of change between your set point and your process variable, the monitored variable, whatever it is. So as the gap gets wider between what you're trying to achieve and what you're actually achieving, the proportional gain multiplies that to increase the impact of the response which is what they call the controlled variable. So I'll talk about integral and derivative in a minute. So the process variable in this particular case is the gyroscope's reading of vertical position. Our set point is vertical. Call it zero degrees, call it 90 degrees, it really doesn't matter, it's just a number. So pick a point. Let's just call it zero. So our set point is zero. We go too much to the positive, too much to the negative, we get an error. So our gyroscope reads we're standing now at one degree, positive, so the error would be an error of one degree. So if our gain is, I don't know, 100, then we will apply one times 100 amount of gain. That will give us our control variable output of 100 whatever. So in our case, our controlled variable, quite simply, is the speed and direction of the wheel. So if it's 100 Hertz, that could equate to, I don't know, one kilometer an hour, 10 kilometers an hour, whatever it works out to based on the size of the wheel, rotational rate, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. So the whole idea is that the larger proportional gain we've got, the more sensitive it becomes. So a tiny little tilt, big jolt forward. So the next part of it is the integral component. So the integral time seeks to take all of those gain values and spread them over time. So, you don't want to just look at one degree of error instantaneously. You want to consider one degree of error spread over a 10 second period, let's say. Or a 20 second period. Maybe. I don't know. And what that'll do is, it's one degree of error now, but that's averaged over a 10 second period. So, if you sample again in one more second second, then you've been one degree for two seconds out of ten. So your average will be 0.2 degrees. And then three seconds, it'll be 0.3. And eventually, if it's been one degree of error for the full ten seconds, then your integral value will be ten. Well, that's rather how it affects the calculation. So the longer the value, the more the lag. And lag, you'd say well what do I want lag for? Well you believe me you want it. Well this is what accounts for you swaying around a little bit as it rolls isn't it? Correct yes so what it does is it what what what integral gives you is it gives you protection against oscillation. So in all of these loops there's three kinds essentially there's critically under damped over damped and critically damped so ultimately we don't want oscillation because what will happen is if you have too large a gain and no integral and no derivative, then you will tilt slightly forward, it will go super fast, over correct and then it will go too far back the other direction again and you will get an endless cycle of the wheel going forward, back, forward, back, forward, back, forward, back, trying to correct itself and never getting anywhere. So you need to have some lag in there, but if you have too much lag, then you could basically lean forward and before the wheel even bothers to start turning because you have too much integral delay, you'll fall on your face. So that's probably not so good. Yeah, bang. Not so good. Bad for the teeth. Anyhow, the derivative is more about... Collarbones. Yeah, collarbones, yes. So the derivative is more about a rate of change correction, which is great for pseudo predictive control in a closed loop controller. Derivative is very rarely used and it's something that I just want to leave alone to be perfectly honest. So the bottom line is tuning that up and getting it right and having different sets of parameters for different conditions, that's the trick. And the more I ride these things, the more I learn how they've got changed out parameters for different scenarios, which I'll get to later. So closed loop PID control. And to be honest, when you lean forward, it goes forward. If you're already moving backwards, it'll slow you down. If you're leaning, if you lean backwards, it will go backwards. Or if you're already moving forwards, if you lean backwards, it will slow you down. And that's pretty much it in a nutshell. The trick to staying upright is the same trick as a bicycle. Always stay moving. And if you're not, put your foot out because you're going to fall off. And that's it. So the other thing to consider about how these things function is what they do when they break. So when you're slowing down, that energy in most of these electric unicycles is regenerated and put back into the batteries, with varying levels of success, some models doing a lot better job than others. In any case, it helps add to the range, right? And if you're restricted by airline regulations, that's a good thing for your product, I suppose. So most wheels are going to have a tilt over mechanism such that if the wheel goes off centre by more than 45 degrees tilt of one side to the other side, the wheel will cut out for safety. And I don't mean forwards or backs, I mean side to side. Because I mean, let's face it, if this thing's tilting at 45 degrees, you've probably already fallen off. Speed over ground for the wheel is easy to calculate because the controller knows how fast it's pulling the magnetic field, it knows the diameter of the wheel in the microcontroller so you can figure out how fast it can go. And because the dynamics of the motor are understood, you can calculate the maximum safe speed. Because the problem is with Brushless DC motor, is that the torque starts to drop off significantly as you push the speed to the design limit. And you need torque in order to correct and hold someone upright. 'Cause if you don't have enough torque, you can't pull them back up again, obviously. And you then run out of power and then the whole thing collapses and you face plant. So, that's bad. And for that reason and specifically that reason, which is essentially loss of control, there is no such thing as coasting. So, if you're on an electric scooter that is not self-balancing, you could coast, you can coast. But if you are on a self-balancing device, you cannot. There will always be... I didn't realise that. Yeah. There will always be a speed limit, always. So, unfortunately, that absolute speed limit cannot be broken. It is fixed by the DC motor and it's fixed by the control circuit and the power, the switch mode supply and the design. So there's always a design limit and that's all there is to it. In order to adjust for that, in order to warn you that you're reaching that limit, there's two mechanisms that they use. One is an audible alarm, which is exactly what it sounds like, beep, beep, going fast and the other one is a tilt back which is less obvious and more subtle where the pedals literally will tilt backwards slightly and you will feel them pushing into the balls of your feet and that warns you that you're reaching the speed limit of the device and if you just keep going faster it simply can't correct. It won't stop you, it just can't correct and you'll just faceplant. I have a question. Yeah. When it does that little tilt back? Does it apply any braking like it would if you tilted back? No, no it doesn't. No, you have to tilt back beyond the tilt back in order to get it to slow down. Got you. Which takes a bit of getting used to, let me tell you. I was curious about it. So I want to talk more about my experiences with it, but just to list off some of the brands and names and different aspects of models that are out there. There's quite a lot more out there today than there have been in the past. So they're becoming quite popular So air wheels, the one I mentioned, they have a whole range of stuff, not just single wheeled unicycles but the model I have is the X3 which is their entry level model, single wheel. The bigger model has longer range, a bigger motor, is an X8. However they also have some interesting two wheel designs. They're still called an electric unicycle but they have two wheels right next to each other. They've only got a very narrow gap between them. They are essentially a hoverboard without a board separating the wheels, if that makes sense. Because they are thicker overall, the pedals are slightly further apart. They're a lot easier to learn how to ride because you don't topple over on them anywhere near as easily. They're a lot more difficult to take on corners. So they're good in a straight line, they're horrible at cornering. And at low speed cornering, they're almost useless. Some people like them, most people hate them. But they exist anyway. So Segway, we mentioned they were bought by Ninebot, well which came first, the Ninebot or the Segway? Well technically Segway came first, Ninebot came second, Ninebot sold better, Ninebot bought Segway, now Ninebot and Segway are the same bloody thing. So there you go, anyhow Ninebot, it's a thing. Rockwheel is another one. The IPS, I5 is I believe they have a model called the Featherweight, the I5 Featherweight and it is the one that weighs 7.5 kilograms, a top speed of about 25km/h, range of about 20km, whatever that is in miles. The two most popular enthusiast brands, I guess you'd call them, one is a company called Gotway, and the other is called Kingsong. Literally, King song, all one word. It's an interesting name, but anyhow. The funny thing about Kingsong is that all their models have speakers. I'm not joking, they have speakers built into them. You can basically stream your music from your phone or whatever via Bluetooth and it'll play it and blare it out essentially like a... what do they call those things in the 80s? Boombox? Mm-hmm. Got a boombox on wheels. You gotta have your podcast for your commute, John. Damn straight. And everyone else in the world must be forced to listen to it. The good news is you can turn it off, which is good. Anyhow, so the Kingsongs have models from 14 inch wheels up to 16, 18 inch wheels. The model in particular that I'm impressed by is the model 14D. There's also the model 14S which is a sport model. The 14D is generally considered to be one of the most maneuverable and lightest maneuverable scooters and one of the safest ones. So however, if you want speed and performance, and like, I mean a lot of speed, then Gotway is pretty much the one that everyone raves about. So Gotway have had some issues. A few years ago, some of their models were reported as having an oscillation problem, which is a tuning problem essentially with the PID that I mentioned before, the oscillation of going too fast, too slow, too fast, too slow. And there's certain speeds at which it was present under certain operational conditions. So they had a bit of a few things, minor recalls and stuff like that. They got a bit of a bad reputation. Some people got pretty hurt. But the bottom line is that they say they fixed these issues now. I'm not sure. I haven't dug into too many of the details. Although I have watched several YouTube videos of people with the oscillation face planting. I don't know if I should find it amusing or not. But anyhow, I think most people would find it amusing. It's not fair. I shouldn't find it amusing, it's the sort of thing like, it's car crash, it's like a car crash, you feel like you shouldn't watch but you end up watching nevertheless. Anyway, so Gotway have released the Gotway Luffy, which is the only 10 inch wheel unicycle I'm aware of. Grossly underpowered and not particularly fast but still very compact. Not as light as you'd think but still. The MCM14 is another one of their models, 14 inch wheel. I mentioned before there's one called the M Super 3+ and that particular one is one of the fastest, if not the fastest at 55 kilometers an hour top speed. The Gotway Tesla, which I rather like the name, it's not a Tesla made by Tesla, it's the Gotway Tesla and Tesla don't have a trademark on the name Tesla, irrespective. And I think the Tesla is an 18 inch wheel, I think. And it's almost as fast as the M Super 3+ but it's lighter and more maneuverable. And then of course, the one that everyone talks about is the Gotway Monster. And it's given the name Monster 'cause it's got a 22 inch wheel and the damn thing goes and goes and goes. It's got something crazy like an 80 mile range. I don't know anyone- - I'm sorry, did you say 80, eight zero? - Eight zero miles. - Wow. - This thing is insane. And the Monster has got a much bigger, thicker wheel. It's designed to be used off-road as well as on-road. So there are lots of videos of people riding the Gotway Monster and some of the larger 18 inch Kingsongs as well off-road. So these things can perform off-road and do a reasonable job of it. So that said, what have I got? Well, I've got the cheapest one I could get pretty much. It's the Airwheel. Airwheel X3. It's a black model. Mars Rover. It has 132, What our battery pack 14 inch wheel, maximum load carrying capacity is 120 kilograms, which is plenty for me, 'cause my weight I'm currently sitting about 90 kilos and then five or six kilograms worth of clothing, messenger bag, not man bag, 'cause I carry that when I'm riding as well. It can only handle an incline of 15 degrees and on my specific commute, it causes issues on up some steep sections. actually have to walk it up the hill. Whoops, that's fine. I had to walk my bike up the hill too when I ride my bike too, because I do both, right? Overall, it weighs just under 10 kilos. It weighs 9.8 kilograms, so just 21.6 pounds. The maximum speed is 18 kilometers an hour or 11 miles per hour. Realistically, no, it isn't. It really isn't. I've only been able to get 14 kilometers an hour sustained, that's nine miles an hour sustained. But if I do that, I've got to listen to the audible alarm because the audible alarm goes off at 12 kilometers an hour. Here's the model, I'm looking at pictures on Google, there's one with training wheels. Yeah, you take the training wheels off, geez man, they're useless. I put them on and they caused me to fall off, so I took them off and then it was better. Okay. The tilt back starts on my model at 12 kilometers an hour and hits about 10 degrees when you, if you can make it to 16 kilometers an now before it starts to toss you off. You can't disable or change the alert sound or the tilt back on this wheel. It's not possible. So it's permanently on. The low battery cutout at 15% and the battery overheating cutout as well. What it does is it tilts the wheel back and it doesn't just stop at 10 degrees. It just tilts back more and more and more until you fall off. which is, suffice to say, annoying. Yeah. So this whole thing, as far as I can tell, it's only got a 300 watt motor. The longest range I've ever had in this thing, like the longest ever, was about seven kilometers in a single trip, which is enough, just. And that was taking it pretty easy. Generally cruising at around 10 kilometers an hour, not pushing it very hard. if you push it hard, you won't get that range. It'll just keep on doing the whole, I'm pretty sure it's an overheating cutout. It could be low battery, but the diagnostics on this thing, there aren't any. It's just four LED lights and a beeper. So it doesn't tell you why, it just complains and kicks you off. And you're like, oh, that sucks. Anyway, so brand new, this thing would cost 349 US. I bought mine second hand for about $200 US. That's $250 Australian. Yeah, not bad. It was in very good condition when I got it. It is in significantly less good condition because I've been using it. - I was about to say, is it still in very good condition? - No, I have before and current photos and I can tell you that the current photos, yeah, still a bit scraped around the edges there, Vic. A couple of little cracks here and there. - Are you a little scraped around the edges of cracks here and there. - Unlike me, the unicycle does not heal itself. My bruises and cuts have healed at this point, but the unicycle does not. Anyway, so bottom line is, it is generally considered in the community, if you can call it a community, of enthusiasts at the moment, to be the cheapest, nastiest, most difficult to learn, sluggish and failure prone model of wheel you can buy. So it's my kind of wheel. Anyway. - Excellent. - Yeah. Did I mention before, John crazy possibly? Anyhow. - But just think about how much nicer it'll be when you step up and you get on to what they call a quote, real one. - Yeah. If that ever happens, we'll see. Okay. 'Cause there's a lot more to talk about now. So I've covered off the basics, things about the air wheel that annoy me that I haven't already said. So the air valve, because people forget, this is just a bicycle tube. Like it's a, it's a, like a bicycle tube. It's got an inner tube and it's got a, a tire on the outside of the wheel rim. Now this thing is obviously custom built for this, but the air valve, you still need an air valve. So the air valve is really tightly tucked into the inner rim of the wheel itself. It's on a, not really hinged, but it's, it basically, it tucks itself in. And it's quite a contortion to connect a tire pump to it to even inflate the damn thing. And if you turn that, the stem, if you turn the stem a little bit too far, when you try and turn it back after you've done inflating it, sometimes it doesn't easily go fully back tucked away again. And the first you hear about is when you ride the wheel afterwards and it starts going clip, clip, clip, clip, every time it goes past in a full circle, clipping on the plastic protective shell. That's annoying. It's a common problem with these things. The charging port. Now, the charging port came with a black rubber cap and it was supposed to stop water getting into the charging port, but it didn't because it never stayed put. It kept just coming off. So I bought a cheap screw-on one from AliExpress and the most annoying part was I had to disassemble the whole frickin' wheel in order to put it on 'cause the connector for the power connector is attached from the inside of the wheel, the lock nuts on the inside. That was fun, believe me. I was actually surprised when I took it apart. I took a few photos I'll post at some point. I generally, I cleaned all the gunk out of it, but it was really actually quite simple inside there, the control board and the battery. It's not that bad. It's a lot simpler than I thought it would be. Oh, and if you're pulling one of these things apart, I got an important safety tip. - Okay. - Yeah. When you pull off the battery and the battery socket, its terminals are shrouded, but the battery plug on this thing was not shrouded. The pins were exposed pins. And you think, well, that's not the battery. That's okay, right? Well, make sure you tape those up and insulate those connectors when you disconnect the battery, because well- - Did you short them? - Maybe. It was an accident. - Was there some fireworks? - Well, okay. So look, when I was changing that aforementioned charging port cap, I accidentally touched, accidentally, the exposed conductive part of the pliers with those two terminals. And the capacitors, which not surprisingly are quite significant, discharged with an extremely loud bang. Now, it was made worse by the fact that my head was right down next to it. I'm literally like an inch away from it, because I was trying to get in close to see what I was doing with the pliers. My ears were ringing like for a few hours after that and like more than my usual tinnitus ringing anyway. But there was no permanent damage to me or my hearing that hasn't already been damaged through my teenage years other than some adrenaline, which dissipated eventually. But anyhow, yes, safety tip. If you do pull it apart, there you go. OK, riding the airwheel. Duly noted. Yes, duly noted. So, riding the airwheel. Let's talk about learning first. So, the first day I got this, I went really, really stupid. And I mean stupid, I actually am not sugarcoating that at all. I didn't wear any safety gear, just shorts, sneakers, and boy, did I get hurt. I had a nasty graze on the inside knuckle of my right ankle. So, you know that knuckle on the inside of your ankle, that bit of skin there? Scrape that raw, multiple layers of skin down. Quite a reasonable amount of blood. And because it's always covered by a sock, yeah, that took a long time to heal. And that was caused by getting on and off. And it was on my right foot because I'm right-handed, right-foot dominant. So I kept, yeah, because I kept getting, falling off the wheel and getting back on again, I I just basically rubbed it raw and I just kept going and I should have stopped. Anyway, holding the wheel steady, you put a lot of pressure on your inner shins 'cause your inner shins hug the sides of the wheel to try and hold it up and hold yourself up. And you get a hell of a lot of bruising until you get used to it, till you condition your shins. So that wasn't pleasant. I had cuts up the back of my calves And what happened was that the wheel has aluminium pedals, or aluminium pedals if you'd like. And when you fall off the pedals, if you go forward ahead of the wheel, the wheel runs into you from behind. And then the pedals basically cut big gashes in the back of your calves. - Gotcha. - Ouch. I have photos of all of this, which I may or may not ever publish, but nevermind. Point is, it happened, it hurt, me stupid. It took me about four days, practicing an hour a day or maybe two, before I was able to ride it confidently on the driveway, without falling off, and I could turn left. Couldn't turn right, but I could turn left. So that was good, I was halfway there. It's good, just gotta start. Just get a little bit at a time, set achievable goals. Took me another few days to get turning right down, as well as going up and down gutters and bumps. That took a little bit longer. Now, the funny thing is that I couldn't ride on the road. There's no footpaths where I live. So there's just my driveway, which admittedly is a long driveway, but there's a bit of a slope on it. There's nowhere flat to ride it. So I never really got too fast. And I certainly wasn't riding on level ground. And it may sound strange. Wow, you fell off riding on level ground? yeah, because you lose the sensation of speed. So the first week I rode it to work, I fell off a lot because I still had to get used to riding on that flat surface. I just kept going over speed. I didn't hear the audible alert and I just fell off because when you're in a city, it's really noisy and the bike paths have quiet sections. Of course they do away from traffic, but other sections of the bike paths go right alongside the train line for a reasonable distance. And when there's a train going past on the other side of the fence, you can't hear much other than screeching steel on steel. Well, I would imagine you probably had your AirPods in too, right? Listening to something. No, nope. Not when I was learning. I didn't risk it. When I was learning, I could not wear the AirPods. I couldn't. So I didn't, because it was too dangerous. I needed to listen for that alert. Gotcha. And I learned, and I learned quickly that I couldn't because there were sections of the path that I just couldn't hear it. So, did you show up to work bloody and looking like you'd strolled through a battlefield to get there? Honest answer? Yes, I actually kind of did. Did anybody give you a hard time? No, because they didn't know why I got them. But the one person did ask me once. So, all right. We don't know what's going on with John. Yeah, but there's something going on here. I think everyone was just so caught up with the whole, you know, with, um, for those listening to what's happening to me in the last few months, um, with all of the headcount reduction and layoffs, uh, I think that too, self-absorbed at that point to care what was happening to John, the palms of John's hands being covered in gravel rash every third morning. Nevermind that. Um, right. Where was I? Okay. So after a couple of weeks though, riding on, on level services, I really started to get the hang of the tilt back and feeling that tilt back when it was happening. so that I didn't have to rely on the audible alarm and I could start wearing AirPods and listening to music and taking phone calls if I had to. I started to learn some of the PID loop control peculiarities of my specific airwheel. I suspect they're all different, but I'm learning mine. The interesting things I've learned about mine, which is something that you don't think about until you've tried riding one of these things. When you change slope from a flat surface to a sustained incline, it doesn't have to be much, just a sustained incline of a couple of degrees or takes, it can take a couple of seconds, but then you'll feel the attitude of the pedals tilt and they'll tilt forward to bring you closer to vertical, which makes sense. But that couple of seconds is a problem because if you overcompensate before it does that and you lean too far forward during that transition, then you can end up leaning too far forward and you'll just fall off, you'll fall forward. - Gotcha. - So when you change inclines, I've learned you tend to sort of like ease back slightly. So you don't go as fast, you wait for the pedal angle to adjust and then you can lean back into it again and it's fine. I've also learned steering when you're braking downhill is by far the hardest thing to do. 'Cause when you're leaning back, It's trying to break. If you try and steer when you're breaking, it is exceptionally hard to balance. I found. Yeah. So I found that if you, when you want to break, you break straight and then you turn at a lower speed. It's a lot safer. Yeah. The other thing I've learned is going over bumps downhill. You really need to bend your legs to absorb the shock of doing that. Otherwise it'll just kick you off. Cause when you're breaking, there's no faders, right? and it has more trouble keeping its balance when you're braking and you go over a bump. It really struggles. So I find that if you bend your legs, because if you keep rigid legs, which is fine when you're going straight or up a hill, but if you bend your legs, which is more difficult because if you bend your legs, then you have to have very good side to side balance because as you bend your legs, your knees naturally start to come apart. So you lose that grip on the center of the airwheel. So, it tends to tip slightly if you're not perfectly balanced. So, it's more difficult to achieve than you might think. So, the first few weeks I was riding it downhills with bumps on them, I nearly fell off of multiple times because I was trying to do them with rigid legs. But as I've gotten better with my balance, that's been less of an issue. Okay. So, how does it look? And by that I mean, what do other people think? I don't know what they think. I can imagine what they think, but, oh, the way they look at you. Hmm. Here's what I've had. Sometimes people will look at you, they'll say nothing, and I'll just shake their head and dip their eyes. That says it all. Sometimes they'll chuckle, smile. Occasionally you'll get something verbal and occasionally it's actually, occasionally it's good. I've had, wow, look at that futuristic thing. I had someone say, Hey, where can I get one of those? He tried to maintain a conversation with me as I was scooting past. It didn't go well. No. I was, I was out of earshot and he was out of earshot by the time I told him how much I paid for it. How much is that thing worth? I've had that question. And quite a few times, generally from school kids, like, you know, middle school, high school kids, they'll say, oh, Hey, that's a segue or variants of that. Occasionally you'll get bad comments. So, I've had one guy once, it was actually quite a while ago, bike paths of a bikes asshole. Really? Really. Just one guy once. I've had a couple of look out please, or will you look out, thanks. And a couple of watch it. And the thing that's interesting. Have you ran anybody over? No. Okay. Not at all. Just checking. No. Nope. I'm more of a danger to myself than I am to anyone else. Believe me. So on this thing, a cyclist, like I referred to you in my previous, I referred to my previous comments, right? 50 Ks an hour. I've seen bikes screaming past at stupid fast speeds. They could put someone in hospital. And if they're an older person, older pedestrian, they could kill them. Yeah. me riding this thing, man, I'm more likely to kill myself than anyone else because this thing can't even go that fast. So you know, it's just, nah. Anyway, but here's the other one that was interesting. I got this a few weeks ago. This guy approached me while I was waiting to cross the road, standing on the unicycle, and he says a sales pitch. He's like, he has a flyer in his hand and he says, if you ever want to stop riding a kid's toy and buy a real machine, take a look at these electric scooters. And these are like, you know, like a scooter style, like a sit down grown up scooter, single, like, you know, freeway speed sort of thing, but it's electric. The way he said it though, you don't want to stop riding a kid's toy. Pretty condescending. Do you think? Yeah. The reason I mentioned and made point of Mr. Chen's point earlier that he saw the hoverboard as a toy, that was why I mentioned that, is that the inventor of these things sees them as a toy. This guy comes and says rather condescendingly, "Hey, here's a toy. You're on a toy. You're on a real machine." I'm looking at that, and the first thing that goes through my head is, if I was a man who was interested in manly, masculine stuff, I wouldn't buy an electric scooter. buy a fricking Harley Davidson. Right. Cause that's just what, you know, I dunno, isn't, I don't actually know. I suppose so, or a sports bike, you know, I wouldn't buy a fricking electric. Oh, well, why would I do that? But seeing as how I don't give a crap what other people think, generally speaking, I will simply ride my electric unicycle, call it a toy if you like. And my comment to him was simply, if that was your sales pitch, insulting people, you're trying to get to buy your stuff, you're not going to get much of a commission are you? Yeah. Thanks for playing. I wouldn't think so. Dick. I mean seriously. No, I didn't call him that. I thought that. Irrespective, there you go. Just once. So you do get some unusual stuff. Now if you're riding a bicycle, even if it's a folding bicycle, and it's not a sporty, glass, $2,000, fancy boron frame made out of aircraft, aluminium, I don t know, whatever. That s common as mustard. It s out there, they re everywhere. No one bats an eyelid. But this has novelty value. So, yeah, people are going to look. So, if you don t mind that and I ve gotten very good at staring past people because you kind of have to because every second person looks at you. So if peer pressure doesn't get me in the end, we'll see, I guess, anyhow. I'm determined to try and keep this up for a bit longer and see how long I can do this. It's already paid for itself in how much it saved me in terms of parking costs and me not dying from trying to ride a bike in every bloody day. Anyway, nevermind that. So what else? So the X, so I think I mentioned before the top speed I can really only do is about 12 K's an hour, eight miles an hour, which is not that really that fast. A fit jogger can keep up with you. And in fact, just to make the point and to underscore the point, one guy even overtook me in a very brief sprint to get ahead of me. And I'm like, Hey man, it's fine. It's fine. Just, you just run then. Bye. Anyway, pretty much every cyclist overtakes you on this thing. Every single one on the flats, downhill sections, especially, but not always on uphill sections. So that's the only gratifying part, but you know, given that there aren't as many uphill sections for the most, most of the time you ride in this thing, you're getting overtaken. You just get used to it because it just doesn't go that fast. Anyway, on steep inclines, I have to say, um, I've gotten a bit better. um... at weaving the wheel so like you weave the wheel left and right in very tight turns at slower speeds when you're going up a steep incline that's more than fifteen degrees even though you're barely moving to sort of like trick the inclinometer into letting you go up the hill without cutting out I mean I say tricking it's not really tricking it's just physics right I mean you zigzag up steep sections like they cut a road zigzagging up a hill right so you can get up with less torque it's it's not a new idea But I've gotten better at doing that using the air wheel, which is kind of nice. Fair. Anyway. And as I've said before, the problem with going downhill is you can't coast. So that limits your top speed, no matter how fast you go. You're an absolute rotational speed. You can't go any faster. So with a bicycle, you can coast down a hill without an issue. You can't do that on a self-balancing device. You just can't. So what happens is on a bike, even though you're going slow up the hills, even if I zigzag up the hills, super slow or walk up the hills or whatever, I'm not going to make up that time going down the hill. Cause I like on a bicycle, I can, I can freewheel down, uh, down a hill. I can't on this thing. So the commute takes longer. There's no question. And it's not just the top speed. So I have also pushed it hard sometimes and you get that beep, beep, beep, and it tilts back indefinitely. I can handle that if it's on the flats, I can handle it if I'm going up a hill, but I cannot handle it if I'm going down a hill, because it's tilting me back when I'm already tilting back, trying to slow down and it won't slow down and I just fall off. And it's really bad, especially when it's in front of people. Anyhow, nevermind that. - Yeah. - Yeah. But in those cases, it's generally overheating or it's a high current draw leading to a low battery. Like I said, I don't know which. If that happens, I just jump off. I turn off the air wheel and I carry it for about two minutes and then I hop back on and we're good for now. We're good again for another kilometer or so. So it's not the end of the world, but it is, as I said, in front of people, it's embarrassing, but nevermind. I'm just pushing this whole poor little wheel to its limit. I'm beyond its limit and that's probably mean of me, but hey, it was cheap, whatever. So safety. Now, I talked about this a lot in the last episode, but just a quick recap. I think you should always wear a helmet when you're riding one of these things, even if it's not required to by law. It is here, but even if it isn't, do it anyway. Long pants save my legs plenty of times, except the first day when I was too dumb to wear it. Oh, well. Always wear them, always. And I still regret not wearing them on day one. mind. To protect against falling forwards, if you're going to go faster than you can comfortably run. And I mean, like if you fall forwards, you can hit the ground running. And I have very, very rarely face planted the ground. And if I have, I've always been able to get my hands up in front of me. I've had a couple of grazed palms on my wrist, but that's it. That was the worst of my injuries, very minor bruising. So if you're worried about that, just wear some gloves, fingerless gloves, you know, like bike riding gloves are actually fine. That's all you really need. If you really want, you can get a plastic rib embedded in some of those wrist guards for a bit of extra protection if you really want to, if you're really worried about that. Now, if you're going faster than 35 Ks an hour, 22 miles an hour, start thinking about knee pads, elbow pads, long sleeve shirt, don't muck about. And if you're really gonna go really, really stupid fast, and if you get an M Super V3 or a Gotway Tesla or something like that, something stupid fast, firstly, I still think you're crazy. Second of all, get a full face helmet for goodness sake, because at those sorts of speeds, if you come up, your arms will not get up in time to protect your face, and you'll be getting reconstructive surgery at your local hospital. It will not be pleasant. And wearing a full face helmet will be a lot more pleasant than having your face scraped off the pavement. Nevermind that. I've heard a lot of people say how dangerous these things are. Like I actually put this out on Twitter. Has anyone else ever actually ridden one of these things? I got crickets. I did get a couple of jokes, something along the lines of, "No, those people won't respond to you because they're already dead," or words to that effect. Hence, the survival rate of unicycle riders is rather low. There's no evidence to suggest that that is, of course, true. The truth is, I don't actually think that these are very much more dangerous than a bicycle. If you come off at 50 Ks an hour on a bicycle and you're higher off the ground as well, you're going to break something, you know, for pretty much most of the same reasons. Hey, Vic? Like a collarbone. Maybe even a collarbone, indeed. Yes. So, the key, I think, is if you get a faster wheel, it's like any other vehicle. Just because it can go fast doesn't mean that you should go fast. There are speed limits for a reason. Use common sense. Drive to the conditions. Pay attention. Don't take stupid risks, right? I shall see how fast my car can go. Oh look, it can do 180km/h or 130mph. Oh, I've lost control. Oh, I'm dead. So those sorts of things happen in a logical progression of stupidity. So if you can avoid the stupid, then you will not be injured. I really think it's a lot like that. So the ideal EUC for me. It needs to have a built-in handle for trolleying it around. Now that sounds a bit weird, maybe, but the problem is that these things are heavy. And yes, at 10 kilos, I can chuck mine in a backpack of 27 pounds. I can carry it in a backpack. I can also carry it by hand. I can put it in like a, you know, the gym style bag and I can carry it, but I can only carry it for about five or 10 minutes before it starts to get a bit, you know, much. if I'm carrying it by hand. If I've got it in a backpack I could probably do it for an hour but it's going to get pretty tiring. So one solution that was thought of a few years ago was you put a handle on these things, it's telescoping. So you push a button like a telescoping handle on a wheeled suitcase and up pops a telescoping handle and you just literally wheel this thing around like it's a bag with wheels on it, a suitcase with wheels on it. And you leave the thing powered on so it stays upright, all you've got to do stop it from tipping, tumbling over and it's fine. So I'm actually gonna try one of those out, it hasn't arrived in the mail yet. But the problem is that because my wheel wasn't designed to have one, it's a retrofit kit, the problem with that is that it doesn't tuck safely inside the wheel. So if you do fall off for whatever reason, legitimately or not, embarrassingly or not, your poor little handle is going to get potentially damaged when the wheel tumbles. So a built in handle that disappears down into the frame is a common feature on most of the third generation of these things. So most models have got them, like the Kingsong 14's got them, all the Kingsongs have got them actually, the Inmotions have got them, the Gotways have got them. It's pretty standard now, so I definitely want one of those. I would very much like a wheel that has a built-in front and rear light as an intense front light you can actually use to see your way and a flashing red light for the back for nighttime and preferably lights that auto switch based on the direction of movement and it may sound silly but there's already wheels out there that do that so if the wheels moving forwards the light in the front changes from red to white if it's going backwards it changes from white to red which is kind handy. It's very cool. Yeah. Some of the even more expensive Gotways have even got a series of LEDs that look at your angle of tilt in the left to right direction and automatically indicate which direction you're moving as indicators. It's a turn signal. Yeah, which turn signal. Automatic, based on the gyros, which is very cool. Okay, I don't really care about that though. Programmable tilt back speed and programmable alarms, including the ability to disable them. Now you may think I'm crazy, but honestly, audible alarms are so stupid. They're great when you're learning, but once you're done, forget it. I would rather a tilt back at this point, and I'd like to be able to program the tilt back to whatever speed I wanted to. So if I wanted to set it to 20, I'll just set it at 20. Because at whatever speed I think is safe for the conditions, right? And there are plenty of them that do that. Most of the Gotways let you do it, the King Songs let you do it with the right firmware tweaks but mine doesn't. Anyway, so my ideal one would also be lightweight, less than 8 kilos and right now on the market there are very few, there's like two that are less than 8 kilos and I have neither. I'd like one that had enough range that I didn't have to recharge it at each end, at each destination. So at the moment I only have enough range so I have to charge it at home when I get home and I have to charge it when I get to work. So I've got to charge it at both ends of the commute I'd rather have one I charge at one. That's just a matter of a bigger battery pack so that's easily solved. Plenty out there that can do that. A higher top speed but I want one that can be programmatically limited. I don't want the fastest one out there 30, 35 k's an hour or 20, 25 miles an hour. That's fast enough. That's more than fast enough and I even think that's probably gonna scare the crap out of me so probably not. I definitely want one that can handle a higher gradient than 15 degrees. Seriously? Anyway 30 degree incline would nice. And finally Bluetooth 4 connectivity and that's actually becoming standard on my unicycles. You can download an app on Android or iOS and it lets you configure all of the settings that I just talked about as well as get diagnostic information from the... That's pretty cool. Yeah and do firmware updates and everything. They're getting quite advanced. Okay so finally you may be be asking, "Why the hell am I doing this?" Maybe you've been listening along long enough and have garnered why I'm doing this from the last episode, but I'll just spell it out in case it's not clear. So, mid last year, I was faced with a pay cut, a significant pay cut. And I was looking for ways of cutting commuting costs, which is one of the reasons for why all this, why for all this soul searching and different things I'm trying. For a while, I was taking the train, they messed the timetables up, they put the fares up. So, it was actually faster and cheaper for me to drive my car, but it wasn't cheap at a park. So, I paid extra for that while I could, but that only lasted six months or so. I took the pay cut and I had to give it away. I used to work in a suburb in the inner city where you could street park, but it was in a sports stadium parking zone. So, if there was a game on or an event on in the stadium, I was screwed, totally screwed. I couldn't park my car there. So in those days I'd have to pay for parking or take the train or walk for about an hour, which wasn't gonna happen. So it was at that point that I decided it was time to try something different. To park in a spot where there was no confusion about whether or not you'd come back and find your car had a ticket or had been towed or had a boot on it, that consistently could park there every day, there were no issues. There were always plenty of parking. You didn't have to be there at six in the morning to get a car park. And in order to do that, I had to park outside the central business area. So I then invested in a folding bike and I started riding my bike in on the last leg of the trip. And unfortunately there's a waiting list for the end of trip facilities. And I was very sweaty and people didn't want to sit next to me, and that's fair enough. There were probably other reasons they didn't want to sit next to me, but I always assumed it was BO. But nevermind that, it's fine, just kidding. Sort of, partly kidding. Anyhow. (sighs) Yeah. So bottom line is, I decided to try something where I didn't sweat as much. And I decided to invest in an airwheel to give it a go. I've been riding the airwheel at time of recording about four weeks now, five weeks, something like that. - Yeah, that sounds about right. - Yeah, it'll be a bit longer than that when this finally goes to air, but the bottom line is that, it goes to air. What a funny terminology to be applied to a podcast, but anyhow, goes digital, goes out on the interwebs. Anyway, the whole point is that either the folding bike or the airwheel, I travel along the Northern Bikeway and the commute along that section actually bypasses the most heavily congested bit of traffic on my whole commute. So, the funny thing is it doesn't take me that much longer in fact to do the commute because I can ride straight to the door and go straight into the building. The only difference is the bike, I have more time changing from one form to the next, at which point then, you know, it works out very close. So on average, the air wheel takes about 10 minutes longer to the old building, but we're now changing buildings. The new building, it's only five minutes longer than riding the bike. Obviously, and that's including end-to-end changing, end of trip facilities and changing clothes and all that, right, that's all factored in. So the reality though is that it's no good for your fitness. So I still intend to change it up and do a bit of both. There you go. So, I'm still thinking about a faster wheel, but that's probably going to end badly. I don't know. I suspect it may. So, I don't know. And I've got to... And I'm thinking, to be perfectly blunt, I'm thinking about what happened to you. I mean, I'm not teenager anymore. Far, far from it. There's grey in my beard, man. And it's like, I have a beard, which when I came off at a hundred something, no, actually I came about probably about 60, 70 Ks an hour at that point when I actually came off down the mountain years ago. That's terrifying. Yeah. It's like I barely had a beard. So, I mean, I am not as robust as I once was, and I have to get my head around that. As my grandma used to say, the world still looks the same. But the bottom line is that my body just ain't going to bounce back anymore. At our age, John, we break. Yeah. And you know what they say, if you break a hip at our age, it's all over. Yeah. But then again, I also think about riding the bike, and if I fell off a bike, I'm in just as much trouble. If I was really worried about being safe, I'd stump up for parking and I'd drive all the way in. But I can't afford that. I don't know that I'd be too terribly worried about the bike. I mean, what happened to me is a pretty fluke accident. accident. I couldn't begin to estimate how much time and how many miles I've spent on bikes over the last couple of years, but it's really pretty rare. That was like the worst bike wreck that I, or any bike wreck that I've had for as far back as I can remember. I think the last time I remember a significant bike wreck, I was either in my teenage years or very early 20s. If you're careful about how you ride and where you ride, it doesn't happen too often. Yeah, you're probably right. I'd say your odds are significantly increased on the unicycle. I don't necessarily think that's true and I think I've sort of stated a lot of my reasons why in the last episode and to some extent this one. I actually think that if I were to get a faster unicycle, it would carry a very similar risk, maybe slightly high, but not much as riding a bicycle at those sorts of speeds. Um, I think if I was really worried about personal safety, I, like I said, I'll stand by my statement. I would be driving a car in, um, if that's my greatest concern. That's fair enough. The, the, the one area that is, you know, that you have to take pause and think about is fitness. And the truth is that, you know, if you do, when I was walking from the train to the building, there was a good 15, 20 minute walk every day, each way, in addition to the train. So I would drive to the train station, take the train in and then walk the last leg. Um, and I got my, I closed my half hour exercise ring every single day. And, and that was good. But the truth is that riding your bike in is more intense. It's about the same kind of amount of exercise as that, maybe slightly more. But if I'm riding an electric unicycle in that last leg, I am not going to get anywhere near that amount of exercise. And, and although it may build some, well, here's the problem is that you can't. That's the path to Wally. If you were to look at it brutally and say, riding an electric unicycle or any other motorized device is going to lead me down a road of gaining too much weight. If I weigh 115 kilos, that plus my luggage I'm carrying, there are no electric unicycles that could carry me at that point. So the problem would then resolve itself because I'd have to... (laughing) Anyway. - Fair enough. - And on that note, if you'd like to talk more about this, you can reach me on mastodon@[email protected] or you can follow engineered_net on Twitter to see show related announcements. If you're enjoying Pragmatic and wanna support the show, you can, like some of our backers, Chris Stone and Carsten Hansen. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon, and you can find it at, all one word. Patron rewards include a named thank you on the website, a named thank you at the end of episodes, access to pages of raw show notes, as well as ad-free, higher quality releases of every episode. So, if you'd like to contribute something, anything at all, there's lots of great rewards, and beyond that, it's all very much appreciated. I'd like to thank Makers for Good for sponsoring the Engineered Network. Visit for more information about their impressive Helio solar-powered light, flashlight, and power bank, and use the coupon code ENGINEERED for 20% off exclusively for Engineered Network listeners. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network, and you can find it at along with other great shows like Causality, which is a solo podcast that I do that looks at cause and effect of major events and disasters in history, including Three Mile Island and the Challenger Space Shuttle, plus lots and lots more. Causality is on track to overtake this show. It keeps growing in popularity. So, if you haven't yet, be sure you give it a try. If you'd like to get in touch with Vic, what's the best way for you to get in touch with him, mate? one on Twitter. Fantastic, excellent. Alrighty, well, a special thank you to our patrons, a big thank you to everyone for listening and not laughing in my old age as I'm riding an airwheel, and, as always, thank you Vic. Thank you John. Love my airwheel. [Music] (dramatic music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [Music] ♪ ♪ [Music] It does look like a lot of fun. I don't know if I'm ever going to... If I had that kind of disposable income, I'd probably, I'd like to have one as a toy to play with. You said the T word, man. It's not a toy. I don't mean it like that, though. I know, I'm being a jerk. I wouldn't use it as a serious commuting device, let's say that. Oh, okay, then, fine. So one way or the other, I'm crazy using it as a commuting device or whatever. No, no, no, no. Like I said, I stand by the statement. It does look like a lot of fun. [laughs]
Duration 1 hour, 37 minutes and 2 seconds Direct Download
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Vic Hudson

Vic Hudson

Vic is the host of the App Story Podcast and is the developer behind Money Pilot for iOS.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.