Traditional electric skateboards have generally always used a hand controller of some sort to control acceleration and braking.
The first electric skateboards mostly had a tethered hand control, even some today still use wired systems. Then various wireless controllers became common. Infrared was used for a while, mostly because it is cheap. However IR is line of sight which is not great if you accidentally cover the receiver with your foot. Then came RF Contollers which use Radio frequency, which is by far the most common & reliable method of sending control signals to your speed controller. Most eboard manufacturers choose one of the above.
However there is one company that has tried to do something different. They are Z-Board, they got rid of the hand controller entirely. They put the responsibility of controll in your feet. I like the concept, but i just don’t like they way they implemented it.
Z-Board is one of those things you either love or hate. Their control method is via two buttons protruding from the deck that you press with your feet…press down the one at the front to go forward, one at the back to brake…
I haven’t personally tried the zboard method of control, so it wouldn’t be fair to criticise it too much. But I do ride a skateboard and I know that the position of your feet is critical to controlling the skateboard, especially at high speed. Even more critical is the weight or pressure you apply across the sole of your foot. These intricate foot movements and subtle changes in weight distribution are the key to becoming a highly skilled skateboard rider.
A perfect example of this is trying to ride a skateboard with big heavy steel capped boots. It’s much harder then when compared to wearing a decent skate shoe with a flexible sole that gives the rider a feel for the deck. A big boot doesn’t allow intricate foot control.
When travelling at 40+km/h you traverse up to 13 meters each second. 13 meters is a large area to cover in one second. Depending on the terrain & obstacles there could be the need to subtly change direction 5 or 6 times a second. So my point is you need a sound foot hold on the deck. You need to be able to feel the road beneath you and you need to be able to rapidly transfer weight across the sole of your foot into the deck to change direction. This is why I think the z board control method is flawed… taking your foot off the deck, moving your feet around to find a button to press down is not ideal at high speed.
An interesting observation when riding an electric skateboard at high speed is the natural tendency to lean forward when you are accelerating rapidly or travelling at top speed and to lean backwards more when you are decelerating or applying the brake. It’s natural to do this and you do it for various reasons (such as preventing a wheelie). However mostly it is due to countering the forces of inertia and trying to maintain balance on a vehicle that you are not attached to.
Unlike a bike or scooter or pretty much any vehicle (except a surfboard, which also coincidently requires the surfer to lean/tilt the board forward to increase speed down the face of a wave & lean baking to slow or stall the board) humans like to ride, on or in, a skateboard and the skateboard pilot are very much seperate entities. To maintain contact and control of a skateboard the rider must rely on gravity alone. This is why riding a skateboard is very challenging for many people. As gravity is all that holds your mass on the skateboard you must become an expert at controlling your mass. Keeping the mass balanced on top of the deck whilst navigating over various qualities of terrain is a fine art, so if a skateboard pilot is already skilled at controlling mass and shifting weight around to maintain balance it seems that this skill could also be used for controlling the rate of acceleration and deceleration. But it needs to be more sophisticated then using two big buttons that you press with your foot. It needs to be intuitive and precise and it needs to work without the rider being forced to change their stance or raise the foot up off the deck.
So can the strain gauge achieve all of this? YES!
Justin from Grin technologies has prototyped this control method successfully. You can read more about his lean controlled (weight sensing) eboard here: http://endless-sphere.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=49557
I think It would be fair to say it should be natural for a electric skateboard rider to control their vehicle in this manner. You want to go forward? Lean forward because that’s what you would do if you had a hand control… with the hand controller you would slowly press the trigger and you would balance yourself by putting your weight forward so your board doesn’t fly off without you on top of it…
If controlling boards with strain gauges is to become common I think it would be very important to have precise & individual controll over the sensitivity of the front and back sensors… you would want that custom feel tuned specifically to your riding stance.
I believe if such a control method became available to DIY eboard builders & was affordable and easy to implement It would be very popular and may become the standard control method.
WOULD YOU RIDE WITHOUT A HAND CONTROLLER?