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.

197 thoughts on “Footomobiles

  1. Martin Lithium Polymer battery’s are popular in RC vehicles because of their high discharge rates. Regular Lion cells are still cheaper then polymer battery’s, and the skateboard would not draw more current then they could handle.

    Unfortunately the Rapor 3 and 4 use regenerative breaking so it would be more complicated then simply dropping in some lithium battery’s because of their unique charging requirements

    I emailed Exkate for more details on the electrical specs but they havn’t responded 😦 is an excelent site if you want to quickly brush up on your general battrey knowledge


  2. hear hear, I’ve been using inline skates as my only shoes on campus since I started going to school in 2002. Best way to get around.


  3. I suspect on a small vehicle like this regenerative braking is probably not that much of an efficiency gain, unless you’re spending a lot of time going down steep hills. I recall seeing a figure somewhere that said it was usually only 30% efficient at best. Of course, if you don’t use it, then you need a resistor bank to dump the braking energy into heat, like locomotives use.


  4. Are you accessing these old papers online or in a more archaic fashion? Because I would really love to read those articles.


  5. Judging by the two men behind/beside the building, magic exists in the 21st century.


  6. The best part of your comix is the little stick figure drwings of chicks. They are so appealing and sexy.


  7. Okay, so interestingly enough, my friend and I were on the bike path in Davis Sq. and someone on one of these boards rode by. And the kid behind him was on a regular skateboard hanging on to a string tied to the first guy.


  8. on second thought, the bike path is not necessarily IN davis, as much as it goes out toward somerville.


  9. 111 comments and not one mention of Y.T. or Snow Crash? Stephenson fans, you disappoint me.


  10. iirc, lithium ion batteries kind of suck for high-current draw applications — too much internal resistance. You may be able to go further, but probably won’t have as much acceleration, and your top speed won’t be as high. You could probably wire the cells up differently to combat this though.

    Don’t quote me on this though. I’ll wait for someone else to respond with the actual research. I love the Internets…


  11. Charly:

    That’s a different product designed by a different person. As far as I can tell it’s a student design project ( and not in production or even prototyped. I saw both posts and found the finished homebrew more interesting, as the guy designed it himself over several years and has a video of it actually working.

    It looks like a hell of a lot of fun to ride, if maybe a bit hard to turn.


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  14. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the 20th century starts in 1901 and ends in 2000…. so basically, they were predicting how life would be in 4 days…

    Year 2001 to 2100 is the 21st century.

    Not sure if anyone mentionned that already, i haven’t read through the 120 posts, but i think it was good for everyone to know…


  15. Next time you have mechanical issues, you should just give it to some MIT kids…they’re probably more reliable anyway 😉


  16. @Craig: possibly just because they’re awesome. I know I like to drop by my university library occasionally and flip through old publications just for the heck of it.


  17. So… was there a flash crowd at that playground in North Cambridge yesterday or what?…


  18. Find the story “the machine stops” by E.M Forster (Forrester?) it’s online somewhere, the guy pretty much nailed the internet, and it was written in the 1920s or earlier


  19. The internal resistance of Li-ion batteries is much higher than that of lead acid, this is why they are not as good with high current loads, especially the peaks that are created when you start a motor. There is a simple way around that in the form of supercapacitors. The internal resistance of supercapacitors is pretty much zero, so they can be used to buffer the current draw from the batteries when pulses of current are needed (such as when starting the motor). They are light, but they are expensive, making Li-ion an even more expensive option.

    Also, since the battery charging circuitry needs to be built into the cell for lithium ions, adding regenerative breaking wouldn’t be too big a deal.

    The cells alone for a 25v 15ah battery pack would be about $350 + at least $50 for the control/charging circuitry (if you could find one) + $100 for supercapacitors makes that one expensive skateboard. But the battery pack would weigh about 8lbs and have a flat discharge curve.


  20. The 23rd has come and gone. Did you really go to South Boston and find nothing?


  21. Cells

    These are the same batteries used in most laptops, there are better batteries for this but they would be much more expensive and nearly impossible to get.


    The calculations for what is actually needed in a battery pack were done very quickly, so I may be way off in terms of how many cells or caps would be needed.

    Really the problem is the charge/controller. Li-Ion batteries need to be recharged individually, and without a well designed charger they tend to burst into flames.


  22. Man I just noticed the alt text just as I was seriously considering trying this sleep cycle thing. It doesn’t sound so insane as the overman sleep cycle, since you do get solid 8-9 hour chunks of sleep. So I think I’ll give it a whirl. I already eat at and go to sleep random times so all this requires is changing the times I wake up at.


  23. I like the comic about women on the Internet. It reminded me of countless times I get on Ventrilo only to hear some guy say, “Whoa, it’s a girl! Girls play WoW??? Wanna get married?” Hehe.


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  25. The Raptor is fun to ride, but very problematic. Excate has pretty weak customer service (don’t bother trying to contact them by e-mail), and seem to be incredibly lazy about shipping.

    Hopefully the next models will be less troublesome.


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  29. I’m in the market for an electric skateboard; what was it about exkate that made you decide it was superior to eglide?


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