Fatal accident puts Onewheel manufacturer Future Motion in distress

Fatal Onewheel Accident - Manufacturer's Fault?

A few months ago I got one Onewheel pint bought - a kind of electric skateboard, but not equipped with four wheels, but with a single, large tire in the middle of the board. The motor is housed in the bike itself, while the electronics and batteries are hidden in the treads on the left and right of the bike.

The pint is the small one-wheel model. Nevertheless, you can drive a good 14 km / h and of course have an uncomfortable fall if you are not careful - or have blind faith in the technology (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

How does a onewheel work?

When you see someone riding a onewheel, it's kind of like Back to the Future. The person on the board seems to easily balance on one wheel.

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In reality, the Onewheel does most of the balancing work, because the electronics measure the position of the board with a gyroscope and immediately compensate for any inclination forwards or backwards by quickly controlling the brushless motor. The person on the board only has to be careful that the board does not tip over to the side, which is relatively easy to learn due to the wide tire.

A typical situation for a nosedive: the driver leans forward hard to accelerate, but at the same time drives uphill. This overloads the motor and the nose of the board submerges. In this case, the rider was still able to catch the board by leaning back quickly. Source: YouTube.

Tragic accident due to shutdown and nosedive

The term “nosedive” describes the sudden submergence of the front part of the board, which is then braked by the ground. The onewheel stops abruptly, but due to the inertia, the rider moves further forward and is - usually very surprising - catapulted off the board.

"A onewheel nosedive or shut-off is not a small event as it might be with any other type of vehicle. The front of the board violently slams into the ground and then the rider is invitably thrown forward. " press report)

This is exactly what happened to a man in Texas in early 2020 who was out and about in a park with his onewheel. His onewheel suddenly switched off completely while driving and he fell past on the park path. The result was such severe head injuries that he died in the clinic.

The law firm BCH thereupon a lawsuit against Future Motion Inc. (the maker of the Onewheel) and accused the company of the following:

  • Future Motion has failed to fulfill its duty to manufacture safe devices
  • Future Motion has failed to educate customers about the risks of serious injury and death associated with using the device as intended
  • Future Motion has led customers to believe that a onewheel is safe for normal use

The firm now wants to initiate a class action lawsuit against Future Motion and is calling on other US citizens to report if they have suffered falls or injuries from a onewheel.

The risk of death and serious injuries is indicated on the packaging - with a sticker that you have to remove before you can use the Onewheel (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

The risk of death and serious injuries is indicated on the packaging - with a sticker that you have to remove before you can use the Onewheel (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

Death by Onewheel - tragic accident without a helmet?

The man's death is a sad accident that shouldn't have happened. I have great compassion for the bereaved and wish it hadn't happened.

I have to speculate when I say that the man probably didn't wear a helmet or other protective equipment. However, I cannot explain otherwise how such severe head injuries can occur.

I have been riding onewheels for a few months and electric unicycles for a good two years, and it was immediately clear to me when climbing the equipment that head protection would be appropriate here - just like when cycling. I can accept that there are always people who think differently here and ride without a helmet, but as a rule I assume that they know the risks they bear with it.

"Life is about to become more ingenious." - this is how you are greeted when you unpack the onewheel. And I have to say: In addition to the risks, the electric board offers a lot of fun (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

"Life is about to become more ingenious." - this is how you are greeted when you unpack the onewheel. And I have to say: In addition to the risks, the electric board offers a lot of fun (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

How did the Onewheel fail?

The Onewheel is a self-balancing device with which you can move (in the case of the Onewheel XR) at up to 30 km / h. It is powered by rechargeable batteries (LiFePo4 batteries), which can provide a large but limited amount of energy.

There are some scenarios in which the Onewheel can be switched off completely, which of course also deactivates the balancing. The result is usually the above-mentioned nosedive - unless you are employed in the Chinese state circus and can completely balance the board yourself and keep it moving.

The following circumstances can lead to a nosedive:

  • Too much acceleration: To accelerate, lean forward with your body. The onewheel has to compensate for this "excess weight" with its motor. If heavy people lean forward very strongly and want to accelerate extremely, the batteries can reach their performance limit and the electronics switch off.
  • Too high speed: As a rule, at around 30 km / h, the board indicates that you have reached the limit by tilting the board backwards and thereby automatically losing speed. However, if you drive uphill and / or have a strong headwind, it can happen that the batteries reach their performance limit and the board switches off, despite the low speed.
  • Driving downhill with fully charged batteries: It sounds contradicting itself, but in fact, one shouldn't start with fully charged batteries when descending a mountain. The reason is that the board is through recuperation brakes. That means, it converts the kinetic energy into electrical energy, charges the batteries with it and brakes the onewheel when going downhill. If the batteries are completely full, the energy cannot be conducted into the batteries and the board switches itself off.
  • General overload when the battery is low: If the battery level has fallen below 20 to 30%, the battery loses the ability to deliver high power peaks. For this reason, the lower the battery level, the greater the risk that the electronics will switch off the board if the batteries reach their performance limit in extreme situations.

The bottom line is that you always have to keep in mind that a onewheel can only work within a limited framework. It may feel like magic at times, but in practice it is physics and very fast-reacting electronics that do their job here. When the technical possibilities of the onewheel reach their limits, physics strikes and brings you back to the ground of reality - and that comes without fairy dust or unicorn ear wax, but with inertia, gravity and a lot of ouch.

And ultimately you are dealing with an electronic device that - like all other electronic products - can have a fault. Only with the side effect that a technical error with the Onewheel is more painful than my Mac crashing.

If you include such a mistake and the chance of overloading the board in the possibilities that can happen, there are only two possibilities: You no longer drive the thing or you decide to arm yourself with appropriate protective equipment for a fall.

By the way, Future Motion's onewheel channel also shows a video on protective equipment points out the importance of this protective equipment - so it's not as if the manufacturer recommends going on a trip with bathing slippers and a peaked cap.

Future Motion even indicates in a video how to wear protective equipment and wearing a helmet (screenshot on the video).

Onewheel users warn of sudden shutdown

As you can see: There are some points that can lead to a fall while riding the Onewheel and, interestingly, there is one Forum post, in which a user already had a similar situation as in the fatal accident in January 2019.

He was driving at approx. 15 mph (approx. 24 km / h) over a wheel track with no incline when the board accelerated briefly and then completely failed - without any warning from the board.

Another user wrote that after a good 1.200 miles he still doesn't have a single problem, but that Future Motion should take care of such messages. He painted the case of a board failing, a child beating their head, dying, and suing the Future Motion family for $ 50 million.

What if a board fails, a kid hits his head and dies and the family sues OneWheel for $ 50 Miliion?

A mind game that we are currently closer to than never before ...

"Fangs" roles as a nosedive emergency solution

His solution are so-called "fangs" that are attached to the underside of the front of the board. If a nosedive then happens, the board can continue to roll on these fangs and you don't brake suddenly. However, this only works on smooth surfaces and not in off-road terrain. But it would be an improvement, because even in the fatal accident in Texas, the man was on slippery ground.

It would be desirable for Future Motion to think about such a solution and possibly integrate something of the kind into the Onewheel "ex works".

The "fangs" are small rollers that are attached to the front edge of the onewheel and ensure that the board can continue rolling on smooth surfaces during a nosedive (source: video by Jimmy Chang).

The "fangs" are small rollers that are attached to the front edge of the onewheel and ensure that the board can continue to roll on a smooth surface during a nosedive (source: Video by Jimmy Chang).

Early warning of failure

From my point of view, one of the main reasons for the accidents is that an emergency shutdown of the board is in no way announced by acoustic signals. While I get voice messages on my electric unicycles when I'm about to overload the device, the onewheel is silent until an emergency occurs.

If Future Motion were able to set up early warning signals here, the driver would be warned that he was driving in a critical area and could adapt his driving style accordingly:

  • drive at a lower speed
  • accelerate less
  • Be mentally prepared for a shutdown and the ensuing fall

More information on critical situations

No question about it: with my Onewheel Pint there were a lot of safety instructions in paper form and there was also a notice stuck on the pint itself, which informed me about the "risk of serious accidents or death". One can cross the point that they would withhold the risk of death and injury from the list of allegations.

What I would like to point out to Future Motion, however: The critical situations in which the Onewheel can switch off due to overloading, I only found out from YouTube videos made by other committed drivers. A small note in the package with the list of the four causes I mentioned above for a shutdown would have been super helpful.

My minimum protective equipment consists of wrist guards and a helmet. For faster trips with the electric unicycle, however, I am already thinking about a motorcycle jacket with protectors and a full-face helmet - let's see when I make my way through it (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

My minimum protective equipment consists of wrist guards and a helmet. For faster trips with the electric unicycle, however, I am already thinking about a motorcycle jacket with protectors and a full-face helmet - let's see when I make my way through it (Photo: Sir Apfelot).

My lessons for the future

I'm already a cautious driver by nature, but in the future I'll be even more careful to always ride with a helmet and protective clothing and not to push the technology to its limits.

This is much more difficult with electric unicycles, as they are equipped with much more powerful motors and have significantly more power reserves. With the Onewheel Pint, however, caution is advised here, as the smaller motor and the lower battery life (compared to the Onewheel XR) automatically ensure that you scratch your technical reserves faster.

How are your experiences with electric transport? Have you already had a fall? And are you always out and about with protective equipment? I would be very interested in your opinion.

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9 comments

  1. Lutz says:

    Typically Americans, the manufacturing companies always sue immediately. Anyone who moves around with a device should be aware that there are dangers. Regardless of whether it is unicycles, two-wheelers or other devices.
    Such an accident is tragic, of course, especially for the survivors.

    • coloredwolf says:

      The legal situation in the USA is different from that in Europe. With us, companies often have to comply with a large number of regulations. In the US, they are allowed to market goods that can be extremely dubious. But if damage occurs as a result, it becomes extremely expensive. So that most companies spend a lot more money in advance so that the process cannot be done to them.
      If you look at cars, there are restrictions in most European countries. You can do almost anything in the US. Until damage occurs. Then it gets very expensive, extremely expensive.

  2. Werner says:

    @Lutz
    It is not uncommon for the manufacturer to be sued in the event of damage, if there is a prospect of success. Only the sums for damages etc. are much higher in the USA.

    @Jens
    Anyone who uses these devices here (in DE) not only commits an administrative offense as soon as he does it in public areas, but also a criminal offense, since it is a matter of operating a motor vehicle that is not permitted for public traffic (motor-driven!). There is no insurance coverage for that either!
    In the event of damage, the health insurance company can reclaim the costs incurred from the person who caused the damage (recourse!) And damage to others must be paid out of your own pocket. Even a liability insurance will probably be recourse!

    - For reasons of operational safety, these devices are NOT approved because they are not approved for use as vehicles; safe braking (e.g. emergency or full braking) is not possible, they are not safe to steer! You have no lighting!

    ALSO: These devices are generally dangerous and prohibited, except on private property.
    Anyone who operates this in public space is a criminal!

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Werner! Thanks for your clarification. I am not a lawyer and I cannot comment on it, but even the police and the authorities do not agree on whether it is actually a vehicle. Example from a case of a unicyclist who was fined 20 EUR in Austria because: "You used a vehicle-like children's toy on the road there, although games of any kind are prohibited on the road, it is not a residential street and also no regulation for an exception to this ban has been issued by the authorities. They used an electric unicycle. "

    • Oliver says:

      Hello everybody!
      I don't think it's funny at all when you give your opinion on something even though you've never ridden it.
      With an EUC you can make an emergency stop.
      The steering works better than when cycling.
      With the KS-16B (KingSong), the light and rear light turn on automatically when it gets dark. When I brake, a bright brake light comes on. The whole thing is then switched when the unicycle continues to ride in the opposite direction.
      Falls are less dangerous than when cycling because you cannot fall over the handlebars.
      You just keep running or if the speed was too high you fall on all fours. So hands and knees. When you have full protective gear on, everything is safe.
      Shoes that go over the ankles, knee and shin guards, wrist and elbow guards and finally the helmet.
      This protective gear would protect many cycling accidents, but cannot be worn while cycling. How should you steer with wrist guards?
      How to pedal when knees and shins are protected?
      Do you ride a bike with a helmet at 30 degrees Celsius? You hardly sweat when riding a unicycle.
      I wish you always a safe journey,
      Olivier.

      • Jen Kleinholz says:

        Hello Oliver! Thanks for your comment, but I'm not sure I understood it correctly. If you think I would give my opinion without "driving it", then I have to disappoint you. I have several EUCs and also a Onewheel Pint and drive these too. And yes: including falls. So I'm talking about things that I drive myself.
        And in your comment you write about an EUC, i.e. an electric unicycle. But a Onewheel is a skateboard with a wheel in the middle and you ride it differently than an EUC. Comparing the two is like comparing apples to oranges. I feel much safer on a unicycle than on a Onewheel because it's easier to "dismount" and you don't have to stand to one side of the direction of travel. Otherwise, I wish you and everyone else a safe journey and all the best!

        • Oliver says:

          Hi Jens,
          That should actually go on Werner's general answer. Sorry if it came across wrongly addressed. "These devices are generally dangerous". As an EUC driver, I felt addressed. The ban applies to everything that has a unicycle, which I think is wrong. If you were to invent the bicycle now, it would also be far too dangerous, because everything is only stable with four wheels and doesn't fall over by itself. 😉
          Best regards,
          Oliver

          • Jen Kleinholz says:

            Ah, sorry… I misunderstood then. But you are right. Riding a bike shouldn't be much more dangerous. But you fall at the EUC if you get a stone under your wheel that throws the system off balance. On a bike you have two bigger tires that aren't quite as prone to things like that. But no matter what you drive, ultimately it depends on who sits on it, what he does with it. When I see some electric unicyclists weaving through slow-moving cars at breakneck speed, I can understand why people don't want to see these things in traffic. It would be nice if people would use such devices more sensibly, then maybe one day there would be a chance to use them legally on the road.

  3. Oliver says:

    Hi Jens,
    Regarding consideration in public transport, I completely agree with you. This should apply to all road users. And idiots are everywhere.
    I know about the big stone, I've had that experience too. I drive a KS-16B, BJ 2017. To date, a lot has developed in terms of stability. Really big leaps are being made with the 2021 EUCs. Everything remains stable and there's also a suspension. The batteries are already over 100 V. The power reserves are also much higher.
    Best regards!

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