We may not have hover boards yet, but we can have motorized shoes, and Acton is leading the charge with its RocketSkates. Already a Kickstarter hit, the futuristic electric skates are controlled by your feet and can push you along at potentially four times the average walking pace. Risking life and limb (not to mention being laughed at by onlookers), I caught up with Acton to try out the latest prototype.
There are three versions of the skates, differing by range. The entry-level R6 model can run for approximately six miles or run for 45 minutes; the R8 can manage eight miles or 70 minutes; finally, the R10 can go for ten miles or 90 minutes.
Inside each is a 50W brushless hub motor powered by a li-ion battery; that charges in around 90 minutes. Maximum speed is 12 mph, and each weighs seven pounds and can handle up to 275 pounds of rider.
You don’t need special shoes, as long as your regular footwear can fit into the U-shaped platforms. A ratcheting strap goes across the front and keeps you in place; there are actually three wheels on each skate, the two main wheels on either side, and a smaller version at the back for improved balance. Since your toes extend off the front of each skate, you can actually walk (albeit a little clumsily, as if you’re wearing ski boots) should you need to climb a few steps perhaps.
In theory, riding is very straightforward, no matter the specific model. One is the master - identified by a red buckle - while the other follows, with the two linked by a proprietary radio connection. There’s also Bluetooth to connect the skates to your phone; Acton’s companion app will show battery status, performance logs, and - over time - games, route tracking, and even a social network for riders.
The master skate can be worn on either foot, depending on rider preference. Power buttons are on the back of each skate; tipping your foot forward controls acceleration. To get going, you have to do a skating movement which eventually powers up the motors.
Are they easy to ride? Well, that depends. Peter Treadway, co-founder and CTO, tells me that for many it takes around 15-20 minutes to acclimatize to the required riding style: leaning your body forward in a slight crouch to better balance, then independently moving whichever is your controlling foot.
Most important is keeping your feet staggered, one in front of the other, which is where I struggled. My natural inclination was to bring them in line as if I was skiing, whereas in actual fact I should’ve adopted a stance more akin to skateboarding.
I’m not a natural skater, but even after a couple of minutes trial and error I could feel myself getting better. There’s certainly the potential to fall over if you’re not careful, but the motors cut out if you get into too much trouble.
Get the hang of it, though, and you can glide beautifully. Treadway is, unsurprisingly, pretty adept, smoothly kicking off and then quickly bringing his feet into a fared-in stance like a speed skater. You can easily imagine commuting into school or the city on a bus or train, then strapping on the skates and completing the last part of your journey that way.
I’m obviously not the only person who thinks that, either. Acton kicked off their crowdfunding campaign on July 8th, hoping for $50,000, but with 36 days to go while I write they’re almost at a quarter of a million dollars. Shipping is expected to begin in October 2014, and in the meantime the Acton team will be working on reducing weight and bulk even further.
When they launch generally, the R6 is expected to be priced at around $499, the R8 at $599, and the R10 at $699.
Not a skater? Watch us nearly kill ourselves on Acton's M Scooter!