I was recently reading through newspapers from around 1898 to 1901. In a collection of articles from midwestern papers predicting what life would be like in the year 2000, I found this cartoon:

(Brown County Democrat, December 28, 1900.)

The label on the device reads ‘footomobile’. Words fail me.

Now, I have ridden a Segway (or, as I guess I have to start saying, ‘Footomobile’), and it’s actually tremendously fun. But of course they’re too expensive to be practical. Instead, I’ve found an alternative: electric skateboards.

They’re like Segways, but without all that silly safety stuff. I bought two cheap ones off eBay for about $40 each and tried them out. They were fun and worked well for getting around campus, so when I moved to Boston and got rid of my car, I bought a nice one from Exkate for $330 — the Raptor 3.0 model (I swear I didn’t pick it because of the name. They’re just everywhere!). It has a 10-mile range, travels pretty fast (10-15 mph), and recharges quickly. There are other longboard models with longer ranges and top speeds of 20 mph. Zero to twenty in four seconds. Yes.

The boards are heavy — mine is 28 lbs, and it’s the lightest they have. They still use lead-acid batteries because they can’t find cheap-enough lithium-ion packs. If they could switch to lithium-ion batteries, they could cut the battery weight in half and up the range to 60 miles. Sixty miles. Man. (Side note: if anyone has lithium-ion packs sitting around and wants a cool project, if you document it well, Exkate might be willing to send you some boards at cost to play with.) Their website isn’t the best, but if you have any questions, give them a call. The guys there have been really helpful, and they’ll give you any additional specs you’re looking for. You can also visit their shop in southern Orange County.

Now, the bad stuff: my board has suffered from various mechanical failures, and eventually I had to send it in for repairs. They said it’d take 2-3 days and it’s ended up being a month. I’m still waiting, in fact, but I think it’s finally on the way. Also, I’m a little disappointed the boards don’t hover like the ones in Back to the Future. But I’ve looked at some other companies and Exkate seemed like the best.

So, electric skateboards are magical. They’re practical for getting around cities or campuses, and they’re just plain fun to swoop around on. There’s nothing like carving up a hill. I hear Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics rides longboards and might be interested in getting one like mine, so maybe we can start a webcomic-author electric skateboard club. Practically everyone I know has a crush on Ryan, so it’d be interesting to see which was a more effective accessory for picking up girls — the skateboard or Ryan North.

196 thoughts on “Footomobiles

  1. # Nat Says:
    September 6th, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    Did anyone notice the two dudes in a fight in the background?

    I do in fact believe that is two footomobiles crashing! It does look like they are holding on to something…

  2. As interesting as this is, we all know that a velociraptor can attain speeds of up to 60mph over flat, open ground. Why are these quacks content selling a mode of transportation incapable of even the most basic flight from an imminent and deadly peril!? AND WHY IS MY KEYBOARD NOT EQUIPPED WITH AN INTERROBANG?!


  3. About the braking (Re:Yasha): Isn’t shorting the leads a bit… archaic? The motors (from what I saw on their website) do not look like they are sporting heat dissipators, besides their own surface being black (yes, I know… visually black…). Longer braking could perhaps easily overheat the (already warm from propelling) motor.

    Or perhaps I’m just not trusting these guys enough.

    On a sidenote: To improve braking, people riding these …things… could wear capes like Batman… It would look pretty funny in my opinion.

  4. I work for Kamen for his robotics competition nonprofit, and this is totally going up in my office. Footomobiles, unite!

    Now if I only had a good derby hat to go with it.

  5. Toshiro, braking isn’t too bad. You usually only need to brake for at most a few seconds – there’s no such thing as “extended” braking, the board is stopped by then. The motor does get a bit warm after extended riding, but usually not because of the braking but just from putting out 250W or whatever for 1/2 hr. It’s a little slower than biking, but a whole lot easier – when you get there, the only part that’s tired is your finger from holding down the throttle all the way for 1/2 an hour!

  6. In fact, January 1st, 1901 did fall on a Tuesday. The prediction is clearly for the 20th century, and “what life would be like in the year 2000″ is a prediction for the final year of the new 20th century.

    The question is: why aren’t the gentlemen e-mailing their New Year’s Greetings, rather than delivering them on their footomobiles?

  7. In regards to the direction of man’s coat flaps, he is not necessarily travelling in reverse. He could be pulling hard to the left (as observed by his hand placement on the steering wheel). I’d imagine the left wheels going in reverse while the right wheels accelerate, making him spin in place. What I wonder is if these footmobiles can act as battlebots. Just throw a steel plate over the cowcatcher, and you got yourself a wedgebot. Throw in a pick axe and you got yourself a stew going.

  8. If you ever meet someone, because they “accidentally” throw themselves in front of your skate board, scattering their books/groceries/precious bodily fluids everywhere, that’s me.

  9. What I want to know is, if there is no walking in the future, why are there still stairs? Though, in my imagination, every footomobile has a retractable pogo-stick bottom for stairs, which is awesome.

  10. Oh my god yes, Jonno! I own a footomobile, complete with cowpusher/catcher, and the retractable pogo bottom. If only they remembered to make it thin enough to fit through the door.

  11. I like how the speed lines look like resistors.

    How well does the electric skateboard (or neo-footmobile) perform if you need to use it like a normal skateboard?

  12. I’ve ridden both the Segway and Xootr’s electric version (which, sadly, isn’t made any more).
    I like the Xootr lots more. Lots less money (they were around $600. I think), lighter, less complicated – and were single-track vehicles (like bicycles and motorcycles and, well, push-scooters) which made them very easy to ride – camber-thrust “lean to turn” which we mostly all learned in grade school.
    Really light (20 lbs? something like that), and easy to fold up and carry into work or a store – and *very* useful to take on the subway.
    One Xootr downside was that the brakes were essentially nonexistent if the wheels got wet. I never owned a Segway, and the owner drew the line at letting me take it out in the rain to see how it would do.
    Another is simply that there’s no cargo space – so knapsacks or messenger bags.

  13. Pingback: » Two days in: my thoughts

  14. Hey, I spoke to the guy who owned the Exkate company for the last ~5 years or so… they actually sold a replacement lithium ion pack, but it didn’t really improve the weight or range that much… weight only dropped by ~25%. I’m not a battery expert, but I suspect that the needs of laptops and the needs of personal transportation devices in terms of current are pretty different, and lion batteries probably offer more benefit in the low-current scenario.

    Anyways, when they were selling the lithium ion pack, they neglected to change the charger plug, so (dumb) people would use the lead-acid charger on the lion battery, and the thing would catch fire. That, plus the negligible advantage and high price led them to drop the lion plans.

  15. Say, why don’t you pair up with Exkate for an electric skateboard with comic #139 on it? Then you could call it xk8cd.

    (I wrote a similar comment before but it doesn’t show up now, so either it got lost on a jammed interweb tube, or you moderated it out. If the latter’s true, I apologize for reposting.)

  16. The reason the calendar matches the year 1901 is because the picture was intended to be used as a calendar for the year starting shortly after this was published (which would, in fact, be the start of the Twentieth Century). The article, and picture, is still about life in the year 2000.

  17. I read through that until halfway before I thought “Wasn’t there a comic about electric skateboards already?”

    Luckily you sneaked it in, sneaky bastard.

  18. I’ve had to use the Exkate Raptor 3.0 as a regular skateboard twice: one time when I ran out of power, and one time when I busted the drive belt. Especially with the busted drive belt, it skateboards surprisingly well despite its 30lb weight. What helped when I ran out of power was to simply remove the battery pack and put it in a backpack. It skated much easier. However, I don’t know how to skatebaord, so ….

    (Yes, I don’t know how to skateboard but I ride an electric skatebord. You don’t have to push, just worry about steering, which makes it MUCH easier.)

  19. I’m not completely convinced yet that this is really pointing towards the year 2000, considering it was published in 1900 it seems highly probable that “the new century” is the one that has just begun, not “the next century”. Considering the lack of fashion change and the trend that most of the “2000” prediction drawings have a whole lot more tall metal buildings, I think it’s probably referring to sometime during the twentieth century, i.e. pre-2000

  20. In the New Century, women will by law not be allowed operate the Footomobile for modesty’s sake: Imagine the chaos that might ensue should an ankle be revealed as skirts are whipped higher than the instep by the awesome speed the Footomobile achieves!

  21. @Daniel Reeves:
    “I commute in Manhattan on (human-powered) skates … And certainly kicks your skateboard’s ass. (Top speed ~50km/h (30mph) on flat… ”

    Sorry, I gotta call you on that. Current world records for very short distance sprints on inline speed skates (on a track) work out to ~27 mph. There are a few inline skaters in the world who could outrun this skateboard, but not many, and not for long (short of exceeding its range).

    That said, I’m with human power. Motors are for the weak. :)

  22. earcaraxe: ‘…considering it was published in 1900 it seems highly probable that “the new century” is the one that has just begun,…’

    As has already been mentioned here (Sept 5th at 6:23 am and 11:31 am, 7th at 8:31 am and 8th at 6:29 pm) “the new century” had not just begun in late 1900, it was about to begin. Obviously, footomobiles cause damage to numeracy related braincells.

  23. OK, so I could imagine importing one of these electric Skateboards. But I’d have to know first, how does it handle down hills? The 4 miles to school is all down hill- and if I can’t keep it under control…

  24. @Rob says:
    “Sorry, I gotta call you on that. Current world records for very short distance sprints on inline speed skates (on a track) work out to ~27 mph.”

    That’s average speed from a standing start.
    That said, fine, maybe I’d max out closer to 27mph.
    Still kicks Randall’s ass!

  25. @Yasha:

    Was it just me sucking when I tried to ride the thing, or did it oscillate at high speeds for you, too? (Also, don’t your ankles get tired from balancing yourself?)

    When I brought Yasha’s anywhere above 1/3 throttle, it started oscillating back and forth — it felt like if I went any faster, it would oscillate badly enough to throw me off of the thing.

  26. I beat up 1000 Internet Tough Guys one afternoon. It wasn’t that hard. I don’t see what the big deal is.

  27. wait, so, you’ve been electro-skating around boston, the town i live in currently, and i didn’t know about it? well mr. xkcd…

    prepare to be ++***HASSLED***++


  28. Josh: It takes a while to get used to. Ask a real skateboarder for advice. If you put your back foot all the way back then you get great control and good stability without oscillations, even at full speed. If you plant your feet right (for me, my toes would hang off the end) then balancing isn’t a problem either. In fact, I got so used to holding the throttle all the way down, my finger would hurt after 1/2 hr of riding (and wishing the damn thing would go faster, but understanding that if it could, it would be heavier as well).

    Fer: I had to go over a few overpasses and while uphill was much better (more controlled), downhill isn’t too bad – it’s just kinda scary. The braking works great, but if you brake too hard, hit a rock or bump in the road, then you may fall off. I learned to jump off when I feel it getting out of control. One thing to note: you may or may not make it 4 miles UPhill without recharging it at school. Fortunately the charger is small – a bit bigger than a laptop power supply.

  29. Sorry to post so much, but on the topic of batteries, A123 cells, while great, are prohibitively expensive. A more reasonable solution are V-28 packs, from Milwaukee Electric. To get the same Amp-hour that the Raptor 3.0 has now would cost about $600 but you’d get a little more voltage (28v vs 24v) and less weight, at the price of double the skateboard with SLA batteries, all to shave a few pounds.

  30. @Phoebe

    Do some digging. Moller has been using that Skycar to scam investors for decades. It is perpetually “a few years away” and will never be complete. Every time it looks like a deadline is approaching, he tears down half of it and starts from scratch, so that he never has to meet any requirements.

    Electric skateboards are here, available now. The Skycar is science-fiction.

    Besides, for “vapourware flying-car vehicles” I prefer the Pal-V.

  31. Grant Hutchins:

    I’m glad that they thought to put a cowcatcher in front.

    What makes you so sure it’s a cowcatcher? Maybe they were the forerunners of modern ricers. ☺

  32. I think it’s pretty clear that the guy on the ground crawling towards said hat has just experienced a predicted accident, and is cursing the people that predicted it, while retrieving his hat. Let us be glad that footomobiles did not become common, or 2/8 of us would be involved in an argument over a footomobile accident at any given moment. The electric skates therefore seem better, as only 1/6 of the people shown using them are recovering from an accident, and the accident is less serious, or the guy on the ground would also have profanity coming from his mouth.
    Electric skateboards are, of course, perfectly safe, since none of the persons depicted using them in are involved in accidents.

    (sorry if this posts multiple times, behind a very unstable connection)

  33. I’m shocked people are asking “why?” about the old newspapers.

    Remember that reprinted 1902 Sears catalog in your school library? Read to tatters and always checked out and little groups huddled together in the halls and classrooms reading it?

    Why wouldn’t you expect that if someone saw a bunch of lat e19th century newspapers, he would immediately become fascinated and start reading them?

  34. You have to love the “electrical” bolts shooting out of the thing, and the cow catcher. I love the Radio Shack catalog with the $500 1.3/megapixel camera and like a 64mb memory chip.

  35. @Daniel:

    “That’s average speed from a standing start.
    That said, fine, maybe I’d max out closer to 27mph.”

    Acceleration time might be significant in the shortest sprints, but it’s pretty trivial at longer distance. Check out the table here:
    and do some math. If you can hit 27mph on level ground, you are better than most people in the Olympics.

  36. well, it shouldnt be too hard to retrofit your footomobile in the future. just get your hands on some lithium ion or nimh batteries when you get a chance and wire that stuff up.

  37. Heeh, I’ve bought one of these, and a lot of that is to do with Comic 139 and this ;-)

    I’ll let you know how I get on, both with skateboard and with women. (Although, my girlfriend might not be too pleased if I start cruising for the ladies on it)

  38. @Rob:

    “Acceleration time might be significant in the shortest sprints, but it’s pretty trivial at longer distance. … If you can hit 27mph on level ground, you are better than most people in the Olympics.”

    No no no, either the distance is short and acceleration matters or the distance is long endurance matters. Those tables say nothing about what Olympic-level speedskaters (note inline is not an olympic sport) can hit as a max speed. It’s *easily* in the 30s.

    Put anyone comfortable on rollerblades in a pair of inline speedskates and they will beat Randall’s top speed of 20mph, not to mention the 10-mile range.

    Human-powered skates beat an electric skateboard, with current technology.

    That’s all I’m saying.

  39. Excuse me, I didn’t get how do you control it?
    Does it have some kind of wireless remote or maybe you can start and stop it using your feet?
    By the way, have you ever had any accidents with this board?
    Thank you.

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