May 29, 2012
Anyone who’s seen Back to the Future II will share the following sentiment: society needs hoverboards. This dream has taken a giant leap in the direction of reality with the ZBoard, a weight-sensing electronic skateboard.
Topping out at a speed of 17 mph, the ZBoard is controlled by leaning on the board’s front pad to move forward or leaning backward to trigger its brake. The Pro version has a 10-mile range while requiring 5-hours for a full charge and weighs in at 30 lbs. DeLorean not included.
I caught up with Ben Forman and Geoff Larson, the founders of the Los Angeles-based future boards, to learn more about the inspiration behind their product, the biggest surprise they’ve encountered thus far, and the (back to the) future of recreational transportation.
Tech Cocktail: Can you share a brief intro to your backgrounds?
Ben Forman: I come from the worlds of robotics and sales. I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California and worked at a medical robotics firm in Silicon Valley during my college summers. After college I worked in sales in the sustainable industry.
Geoff Larson: Like Ben, I studied mechanical engineering at USC, along with a minor in Business Entrepreneurship. Before the ZBoard I was working on an aftermarket car parts business, which included a fair share of CAD modeling and international sourcing.
Tech Cocktail: What was the inspiration behind ZBoards?
Forman: The ZBoard started as our senior project at USC. Like a lot of parts of Los Angeles, USC was pretty car unfriendly with heavy traffic and poor parking options, so everyone rode a bike or skateboard to class. Geoff and I had both had several bikes stolen in our 4 years there, and I had gotten sick of sweating while I’d push my skateboard back from class on a hot day. We began thinking about a vehicle design that would be more portable and fun than a bike, and easier to learn than a skateboard.
Tech Cocktail: What surprises have you encountered in the process of marketing your product?
Larson: We’ve really been surprised by (and are incredibly grateful for) the way that bloggers have picked up our videos and featured them on their site. We always thought the ZBoard was cool (which is why we worked on it in the shadows for three years without making a dime), but we’ve been shocked by how bloggers in the gadget, startup, and green sectors seem to think its cool as well.
Tech Cocktail: Are you targeting existing skateboarders or an entirely different demo/psychographic?
Forman: Overall, we target anyone who is looking for a new rush. I think the ZBoard is unique as it can add some real fun to everyday mundane errands – which everyone has. More specifically, we find that people who have some experience with boardsports (skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding) are the folks who can really see themselves riding their ZBoard everyday.
Tech Cocktail: What do you see for the future of electronic, recreational transportation?
Larson: I think we’re going to see more devices that are designed to be fun to ride/drive. People write a lot about the convenience, reduced carbon footprint, and exercise elements of alternative personal vehicles, but if a vehicle isn’t fun, I can’t see people immediately wanting to use it, much less pay more for it.
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