Chapter in this post:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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:
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.
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 ...
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".
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:
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.
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.
Jens has been running the blog since 2012. He appears as Sir Apfelot for his readers and helps them with problems of a technical nature. In his free time he drives electric unicycles, takes photos (preferably with his iPhone, of course), climbs around in the Hessian mountains or hikes with the family. His articles deal with Apple products, news from the world of drones or solutions for current bugs.