With the chaos of SXSW 2019 firmly in the rearview mirror, the big story wasn’t Jordan Peele’s “Us” or Questlove’s set at The Main. Electric scooters dominated the headlines. With over 70,000 helmet-less attendees screaming through the streets and sidewalks of our great city, it felt like an invasion.
Determined to provide an alternative to this clean, convenient, yet flawed transportation model, one company feels it has the solution. Enter Austin Hoverboards and a brand new way to get from Point A to Point B without the need to touch a scooter, or even touch the ground.
From Novelty to Reality
The concept of a hoverboard is nothing new. Two years ago, they were the hot ticket Christmas gift. But after reports of catastrophic crashes and explosions, parents stuck them into closets, never to be ridden again. But where many saw danger, Johann Gambolputty, founder of Austin Hoverboards, saw opportunity.
“The minute my son jumped on his new hoverboard and started cruising around our cul-de-sac, I knew this was the next generation of urban travel,” Gambolputty told me.
Thanks to key investments from West Coast venture capitalists and local funding, the company has a fleet of 1,000 freshly-minted hoverboards ready to serve Austin travelers during the pilot, with 7,500 expected to drop by the end of 2019.
Bleeding Edge Tech Means Safer Rides
But you may be thinking, “How will hoverboards make on-demand travel easier?” Until now, consumer-available hoverboards have required wheels to get around, just like scooters and bikes.
However, Austin Hoverboards’ vehicles literally float six to 12 inches off the ground. Thanks to this cutting edge technology, the company promises a number of safety improvements over the current scooter models.
“We get it. When you’re flying down South Congress at 20 miles per hour, safety is of paramount importance,” admitted Gambolputty. “While there is no law preventing riders from wearing helmets, having a wheel-free hoverboard eliminates issues with slick asphalt, ground debris, and other roadway hazards. It also prevents injury to local insects, snakes, and plant life.”
Keeping Austin Beautiful
One of the biggest complaints revolves around how on-demand devices look on the street and wherever they’re parked/thrown. Within a month of deployment, scooters were reportedly being left in wheelchair accessible street ramps, in the middle of sidewalks, and stuffed into trash cans.
Austin Hoverboards promises parking kiosks to alleviate this problem. The structures will stand 15-feet-tall, hold 50 boards, and dispenses the devices like a soda machine spits out Coke.
At first, kiosks will be strategically placed in high traffic areas, but by end of year, they may be on every Austin block. The goal is to make boards readily available, yet organized.
“Look, we ‘re not about to drop 5,000 hoverboards onto the streets of downtown and ask the city to deal with it,” insisted Gambolputty. “By the end of the year, we’ll be gently placing 7,500 clean, safe, and efficient vehicles into strategic locations around town with the hopes of, at some point, partnering with local government to help regulate their usage.”
In the end, there’s no perfect solution to what pedestrian commuters call the “last mile problem.” On-demand transportation like bikes, scooters, and now hoverboards provides a cheap way for those dependent on Cap Metro to get around. But they’re also a danger to civilized society when piloted by drunken out-of-towners, wheelie-pulling college kids, and hooligans speeding down South Lamar opposite traffic on the sidewalk.
But is Austin Hoverboards the ultimate answer? Only time will tell.
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
What is your preferred way of getting around Austin?