The iSwile CUBE team envisions future versions of its product adding e-mobility to wheelchairs, strollers, and just about anything else with wheels.
One approach to the future of mobility is enabling the transition from fossil-fueled and locally-polluting forms of transportation to quieter and cleaner ones, using a combination of new technology, such as modern electric motors and batteries, and some of the tools we already have, such as bicycles. Instead of buying a whole new bike to get an electric drivetrain, drop-in e-bike wheels can turn the bike you already owninto an electric one, and electric bike trailers can add a powered push to your favorite ride. By using most of your current equipment and only upgrading one part of it, it’s possible to have a cheaper electric transportation option, and one with a lower environmental footprint, than a brand spankin’ new e-bike.
However, when it comes to skateboards, which are the smallest personal transportation option, barring simply walking, there aren’t that many solutions. You can either buy a new purpose-built electric skateboard (or a used one), which can get pretty pricey and gets you an electric-only board, or you can buy a conversion kit or source the parts yourself, in which case it will be cheaper, but will also be a dedicated electric skateboard. However, there will soon be another option, in the form of a bolt-on electric drivetrain that allows riders to get the best of both worlds.
The iSwile CUBE, which is billed as “the future of personalized electric mobility,” looks to be the first offering in a play to start adding electric drive systems to anything that needs to be pulled, pushed, or carried along the pavement. Although the CUBE device is intended primarily for skateboards, the idea of a small quick-mount electric motor, wheel, and battery combination that could allow for owners to quickly electrify “anything with a wheel” and to then easily remove it when not needed, is intriguing.
The device is attached to the rear of the skateboard and essentially pushes the board along, with the rider controlling the speed and braking with a hand-held remote (the steering is still all you). According to the company, the iSwile CUBE has an electric riding range of up to 30 miles, a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and can handle 40-degree inclines. At the end of the ride, the iSwile is said to be able to fit into a backpack, but although the device is being described as “lightweight,” there’s no mention of the actual weight or dimensions of it on either the website or crowdfunding campaign page.
To bring its product to life, iSwile has launched a rather modest Indiegogo campaign(with a $20,000 goal) to cover the expenses for the first production run of the devices, and backers can be among the first to own one of these personal mobility add-ons for a pledge of just $250. The company expects to deliver the first of the production run in April 2018, although backers at the $500 level will be able to receive a beta version of the CUBE as early as November of 2017, along with the promise of free upgrades to match the final production model as well.
I’m torn in how I feel about this product. I think the bolt-on electric mobility option is a great direction to pursue for the future of transportation, and $250 is an affordable price for an entry-level product, especially when contrasted with the $500 to $1000 electric skateboard prices. And the capacity to be able to add an electric drive to other things on wheels (electric luggage! powered shopping carts!) seems to be a unique approach, although one that may come with a host of unintended consequences.
However, in its current iteration, it’s pretty much just for skateboards (and perhaps kick-scooters?), which isn’t very high on most people’s list of transportation modes. It’s great for those who are already comfortable riding at higher speeds on the deck of a skateboard, but it might not be a good choice for those just looking to get started. The other potential drawback of electrifying a skateboard might be to make the divide between skaters and everyone else even greater, assuming that at least some of that travel will end up on sidewalks and other pedestrian areas where riding a motorized device can be dangerous.