Talon Boards: Electric Longboard
Unlike today, back in 2014, there were barely any electric longboards on the market. Just a year before that, Boosted Boards had a smashing success on Kickstarter. Other than that campaign, there was maybe one or two other small companies selling electric longboards. To me, it seemed like the market was ripe for another contender so I set out to launch my own Kickstarter campaign. In retrospect, I was right that electric longboards would be a huge market, but I didn't expect so many Chinese companies to flood the market so fast with affordable boards. Keep in mind, I was like 15-16 years old at the time and I spent the majority of my summer from sophomore to junior year in high school on this. Also, I had like zero tools and zero money to build this - no 3D printers, CNC mills, or laser cutters. I vaguely remember that my hand tools were all bought from either Harbor Freight or on clearance at Lowes with my Chinese New Year money.
Looking back at this project, I am still impressed that I was able to pull this off that young with barely any help, tools, or money. I remember sleeping every night at like 2AM and waking up "early" the next morning at 8AM because I was so excited to work on this project. Having worked on this, even though the Kickstarter campaign ultimately did not reach its funding goal, I realized that I have some entrepreneurial blood in me and I definitely want to work in an entrepreneurial setting one day.
Also, because this was so long ago, I don't have much of the code, parts list, or CAD files anymore.
(More about my Kickstarter experience at the bottom of this post).
After rendering this video, I think I may have had some color balance issues. I am a bit color blind, so that probably explains why I didn't notice it at first.
How I Made It:
First, I knew I wanted a wireless remote similar to the one that Boosted designed. I thought about designing my own remotes, but then I realized that I could just use a Wii Nunchuk as a remote. One thing about hardware startups is that manufacturing hardware is expensive so it's best to use as many off-the-shelf components as you can get away with. The Wii Nunchuk was perfect. They were already sold as wireless remotes so they had batteries built-in. I could use the joystick for throttle and the C and Z buttons for cruise control and sensitivity adjustments respectively. Another great thing about the Wii Nunchuk was that people were already using them with Arduinos.
They sold these cheap breakout boards to connect Wii Nunchuk remotes to the Arduino which is the microcontroller I chose to connect to the electronic speed controller (ESC). So the Wii Nunchuk signals are transmitted to the Arduino, the Arduino then sends commands to the ESC and the ESC controls the motor.
I chose a very powerful 2250W motor to drive the electric longboard. This motor was incredibly strong even after the 3:1 gear ratio I used. There was so much torque that I programmed into the Arduino some logic that governed if the user decides to "floor" the throttle from rest, the speed would ramp up slower than simply going from 0-100 instantaneously. I realized I needed this safety after flooring the throttle myself and getting tossed off the board several times.
A very difficult part of the project for me was connecting that aluminum motor bracket that I designed to the longboard truck. I didn't have much money, so I only got two copies of the motor bracket machined from a random guy on a machinist forum. I didn't know how to weld and I realized that aluminum requires TIG welding which is a more difficult type of welding. I tried to get away with welding by trying JB weld and then brazing but both of them failed quickly. I ended up getting it TIG welded.
Again, I didn't have access to a CNC or a 3D printer, so I got that pulley CNC milled by a random guy on a forum and that pulley cover 3D printed by a random person on 3D Hubs.
I'm kind of an impatient person so waiting for parts to come in and getting them redone was such painful experience to me especially because I self-imposed tight deadlines. This was my inspiration for my next project, VersaMaker.
I also really wanted headlights on my electric longboard for both safety reasons and because I thought lights are cool. I found a great deal on super bright LED flashlights on eBay and they were perfect for this project so I hacked them together and attached them to the board. I then modified my Wii Nunchuk so that the sensitivity button would control the headlights instead as an on/off switch.
Just to give a comparison to show how bright these LEDs really were, here's a side-by-side comparison of my headlights vs. the flashlight on the IPhone 5S (yes, this was 2014). They were almost as bright as car headlights which is more than adequate for a longboard.
I was probably a little over-my-head when I decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Heck, I didn't even meet the age requirements to launch a Kickstarter. However, I wasn't about to wait a couple years to become 18 because I am impatient and the market would become much more saturated the more I waited.
I started creating social media campaigns, graphics, videos, etc. This was a lot of undertaking for one kid, but I did it.
Kickstarter Campaign Page - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1911955304/talon-boards-affordable-lightweight-electric-skate
I only raised $9,542 out of $42,000 so it didn't get funded. Although I was initially a bit sad (my hopes were pretty high), in retrospect, it was probably for the best because I don't think I could have run a hardware startup as a high school student.
This was definitely an amazing experience and probably one of the most productive summers I've ever spent. Honestly, looking back at this, I realize that I was one crazy ambitious kid and I think that my personality has been shaped by this experience.
To this day, I never question if I can or cannot do something - it's always how and if I should do it.