Landon (Team Carvon) and I decided to build a prototype 14s LiFePO4 electric skateboard battery for the Carvon EVO. Here’s how we did it.
This past weekend, our local electric skateboarding crew A2ESK8 participated at Maker Faire Detroit, a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker Movement.
Makers ranged from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers. About 25,000 people attended the event to check out ordinary individuals rolling up their sleeves to create inventive solutions for everyday needs.
Sometime last year I began to search for other DIY ESK8 builders so I created a Facebook group to draw others in which birthed A2ESK8 – Michigan’s largest social hub dedicated to the building of DIY electric skateboards. Our booth was graciously sponsored by our friends at Carvon Skates and Polar Pro whose products are seamlessly integrated into our local ESK8 culture of building and filming.
Attendees were able to get hands on with some of our boards as they were able to throttle and brake using our realtime display bench rig to test RPM, temperature and current.
For those were interested in the tech, we had live demos of VESC (Vedder Electronic Speed Control) and LiFePO4 battery assembly. We also provided insight on the open source community and the emergence of ESK8 as a major player in the personal electric vehicle movement.
We took turns riding the boards around The Henry Ford which provided a glimpse at what ESK8 feels like. Many of our riders describe ESK8 as an alternative to snowboarding and longboarding where you get a similar feeling of “flying” on the ground.
All around us roads are changing, structures go up and having a “spotter” who you are communicating with through Bluetooth intercoms creates a sense of gamified exploration. Every turn we make can be something new and its all about living in that moment with zero distractions. Essentially it’s meditative and can relieve any stress that’s built up throughout the day.
Who knows what the future holds for A2ESK8 but one thing will always remain clear – our mission is to combine safety, reliability, art and design to inspire others to be part of a growing DIY community that will innovate the electric skateboard industry.
Shot exclusively with the LanParte LA3D Action Gimbal, DJI Phantom 3 and Polar Pro Filters
My original DIY Electric Mini Cruiser Skateboard still holds up quite nicely even after 6 months of hard riding and natural wear and tear. But as with all things DIY, parts can always be upgraded. One key feature that I wanted to improve upon was weight, so once again, I researched the right combination of components to make an already awesome commute even better. I’ve nicknamed this build – the A2ESK8 Mini Cruiser.
My original 29″ mini cruiser was the perfect size thanks to the unique design of the now discontinued Jet Spud deck. But I wanted to do something different, which is why I chose the Hi5ber Ion 30 mini cruiser deck. Hi5ber has built a great reputation for manufacturing the best carbon fiber longboard decks available. They are lighter and stronger than typical wooden longboards which create a more controlled, responsive experience for the rider.
The Ion 30’s design is the definition of stealth with it’s ultra thin rails that gradually curve thicker towards the wheelbase. The added benefit is an enhanced wheel clearance that looks so damn futuristic. Other than the low weight, the characteristics of the Ion 30 include high rigidity, high tensile strength, corrosion resistance and fatigue resistance. And unlike wood, carbon fiber doesn’t warp when exposed to water.
Before electricfying the Ion 30, I tested it out with Gullwing Sidewinder II trucks alongside 72mm ABEC11 Freerides and it was a blast. That combination of an ultra lightweight carbon fiber deck and double kingpins was so much fun I was a little hesitant to throw electronics on there. But my curiousity got the best of me so I got to work.
The next step in weight reduction was the battery. My original build contained the 10s3p Enertion Space Cell, a wonderful battery pack, but 30 cells demand a lot of real estate in the wheelbase for a small mini cruiser deck. With a wheelbase of 16.25″ on the Hi5ber, I knew I had to figure out another power solution.
I ended up creating a custom 12s1p LiFePO4 battery pack with the help of my friend Landon who is an electronics wizard. LiFePO4 batteries are the safest type of lithium batteries as they will not overheat, and even if punctured they will not catch on fire. The cathode material in LiFePO4 batteries is not hazardous, and poses no negative health or environmental hazards. Due to the oxygen being bonded tightly to the molecule, there is no danger of the battery erupting into flames like there is with lithium-ion. We used 12 cells in series for a total voltage of about 36v. Paired with a BMS, voltage display, charge port and power button, the pack ended up having a more compact size – perfect for the Hi5ber deck.
Once again I designed a custom 1/8″ ABS enclosure using my homemade vacuum former. This time I wanted the buttons to be located on the side of the enclosure as flush as possible. This created a more pleasing appearance that complimented the look of the carbon fiber. The length of the enclosure came out to 11″ and width at 5″. This meant plenty of room to spare on the Ion 30 wheelbase.
Another big upgrade I made was swapping my original Torqueboards 2.4ghz Mini Remote with an even smaller 2.4ghz Nano Remote that features a thumb throttle instead of a trigger throttle. As far as how it feels in my hand, it’s pretty awesome. Granted, I’m not a big guy but it’s the right size for stealth in the city. It’s as if they took the best features of the Yuneec EGO and Boosted Boards remote and put it into a no frills casing. I like the short throw, knob throttle which is a much better design than Boosted’s long throw thumb dial and trigger button. Shout out to Kaly over at ESK8 builders for the hookup on this remote.
The only components I ported over from my original build are the Ollin Board VESC and the Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor. Because of months of wear and tear and a few moisture issues, Landon and I decided it was best to clean the VESC up with some gentle scrubbing and a coating of anti-corrosion spray. Even so, the VESC is still going strong with no issues or errors – a testament to Ollin Board’s high quality manufacturing practices.
My Carvon V2 Single Hub Motor was upgraded with authentic 90mm ABEC11 Flywheels and is really the backbone of my entire mini cruiser build. I’ve put the hub motor through the ringer in every harsh road condition imaginable and it continues to perform flawlessly. Carvon continues to push the boundaries of eboard drive trains and I look forward to seeing what they do next with their V3 hub motor design and EVO series.
Dialing in the VESC settings is critical for creating a safe and fun mini cruiser. My original build was capable of hitting 31 mph but the sweet spot for a board this small is around 15-18 mph – more than enough for carving through a dense city filled with intersections and pedestrians. Also, the 12s LiFePO4 battery delivers a stronger punch than my 10s lithium ion with a more stable discharge and minimal voltage sag. As much as I enjoy releasing the full power and speed from a DIY eboard, there’s something quite satisfying about taming a mini cruiser eboard that has the ability to hurl you but won’t because you’re keeping it on a leash. More importantly, this build never feels like it’s struggling or straining and that kind of confidence transfers into longer range and fun, safer rides.
Skating the A2ESK8 Mini Cruiser around the city proved to be a blast. On FOC mode with the Carvon V2 hub motor, the sound is nearly silent. The ultra light Hi5ber Ion 30 board makes acceleration from standstill fantastic and it really feels like your riding on some kind of space age material because of how responsive it is. Carbon fiber handles bumps slightly differently than wooden decks but in a good way because vibrations don’t transfer as much harsh energy to your body. Oh and did I mention how light this thing is? Seriously I’ll take carbon decks over wood any day of the week.
DIY electric skateboard builds have been getting better and better in just a few months yet there are still just a handful of 30″ and under DIY mini cruiser builds. Perhaps it’s a bit of a stigma to purposely limit your top speed on a smaller deck but I feel like it’s our responsibility to be ambassadors of this technology everytime we step on a board. I’ve already seen friends who’ve hurt themselves on eboards and in almost all cases, the problem was either an inexperienced rider or a road obstacle and not a board failure. Going over 25 mph instead of 13 mph on a non electric board meant crashes that have caused broken bones and serious concussions. Believe me, I’ve had first hand experience with this and it’s made me a very visible advocate for eboard helmet safety.
This mini cruiser was not designed to be a land missile and it shows. It’s become the ultimate conversation starter whenever I ride in the city because I’m seriously just having fun. The weight reduction made a huge difference and carrying it on public transportation is even easier. If you’re in the Detroit area at the end of July, check out this mini cruiser build in person at the Detroit Maker Faire where will have an A2ESK8 booth and demonstrations. For more information on the products I used to create the video above, please check out the links below.
Full disclosure – as a kid, I’ve always enjoyed cruising around on a skateboard, mainly because I was terrible at doing tricks and too worried about getting hurt. Naturally, I gravitated towards computers and electronic hobbies from RC cars to drones and eventually Miniquad FPV racing. Fast forward to present day – the popularity of personal electronic vehicles has grown and with it – the electric skateboarding community which combines the gratification of DIY tinkering with a broader communal experience.
My earliest memories of electric skateboards were of metal behemoths fitted with lead batteries like something out of a science fiction movie. These days, parts have gotten smaller and slimmer which have allowed manufacturers such as Boosted and Yuneec to carve a out a very unique market of consumers who are not just skaters or tech nerds but those who are looking for alternate modes of transportation. To be fair, someone using an electric skateboard for the first time looks pretty ridiculous but those who fully embrace the technology make it look they are having more fun in life than everyone else.
I was first introduced to the Yuneec E-GO by Emm from Cheesycam. Paired with a gimbal, we used it as a camera dolly for super smooth tracking shots. While the experience was fun, I didn’t have an immediate gut reaction to purchase, which is what typically happens when Emm shows off some new gear. I was intrigued, but the price point kept me at a distance. It felt a little gimmicky, like a big boy toy for guys my age who don’t like to hurt themselves.
After about a year, I started seeing electric vehicles crop up around town and I began to feel left out. I was compelled to get my own big boy toy. And since I live about 2 1/2 miles away from my office, I figured an eboard would be the perfect way to commute. So with a little money saved I bought a used Yuneec E-GO display unit from eBay and immediately customized it with a new paint job and lights.
The E-GO is a rock solid entry level board, perfect for those who want to get their feet wet with electric skateboarding with little maintenance. Ask any hardcore DIY eboard builder and the Yuneec is not really a part of the conversation. But compared to a Boosted board, the E-GO has a very pleasant price tag for it’s components – nothing more, nothing less. It maxes out at 13mph which is slow for most but very reasonable for downtown city commuting where there’s more obstacles, unpredictable terrain and limited straightaways.
DIY ELECTRIC SKATEBOARDING COMMUNITY
Initially I thought about upgrading the E-GO to push it’s performance but after some research, it felt a little risky to modify a board whose only fault was being reliable. Like I never felt “cheated” by the E-GO if that makes sense. Plus having a production board to study for design research is always a good thing. Next, I started lurking in the Endless Sphere and ESK8 Builders forums, a cornucopia of knowledge for all things related to electric skateboarding. One thing that stood out to me was the pleasant attitude exhibited by many of the stakeholders in the community. Compared to some of the guys in Miniquad FPV groups, this was like a breath of fresh air. This is how I took my first plunge into DIY eboards.
FINDING THE PARTS
Every DIY eboard currently relies on components developed by many companies springing up to serve the market. These companies are developing batteries, writing code, engineering motor systems and figuring out pieces of technology at every point in between. This is a constantly evolving scene with DIY’ers providing some valuable nugget of R&D research hidden in posts across two major forums. It’s deep, but not alienating if you dedicate the time. With about a month of lurking, I felt I was caught up with the technology to make informed purchases. One thing to keep in mind is that many of these products are built by DIY’ers for DIY’ers which means its best to do your homework before hitting them with a barrage of questions. This isn’t like shopping for a sweater at Macy’s. Like all communities, it pays to play.
Supporting these guys with a purchase or two puts your skin in the game and as a customer they will give you personal attention and support for your build. You’ll need to have patience as products are made to order. My expected delivery times were off by about a week or two but since I placed my orders before Christmas and New Year, it was understandable. Waiting is hard. Really hard. But on the flipside, having something made to order feels special. Essentially, having a good customer attitude can mean the difference between someone going through the motions, versus someone really giving that extra attention to detail and a once over for quality control. I won’t get too wrapped up in specific components as parts will evolve way past what this article can provide but I can detail what informed my purchases which are entirely shaped by my personal needs.
CHOOSING THE PARTS
JET RADAR SERIES SPUD NIPS LIP DECK
I found this board through posts by Torqueboards and Siggs from ESK8 Builders. It’s 29″ length with a 21.25″ wheelbase seemed like the perfect size for my body dimensions and commuting distance. The nearly 40″ length of the Yuneec E-GO was comfortable but definitely a hassle for taking it on a bus or other form of public transportation. One thing that worried me was the rather large wheel wells and extreme concave but more on that later.
CARVON V2 SINGLE HUB MOTOR + MATCHING TRUCKS + WHEELS SET
To stay within my parameters of a stealthy, low key look, I went with a single hub motor from Jerry at Carvon. Carvon’s website FAQ answered all of my questions in regards to the advantages of hub motors and up to date photos of customer builds. Jerry was really helpful with shipping times and let me know that mounting the Carvon on the 29″ Jet Spud deck was possible but challenging due to the short wheelbase. Not one to shy from a challenge, I placed my order a week later and when it arrived, the product looked even better in person than the pictures. This may seem like common sense but being on the fence or wishy washy can only go so far when it comes to DIY. Once you soft commit to a purchase, be honest and follow through. It goes a long way to establishing a solid customer relationship.
ENERTION 10S SPACE CELL BATTERY
Jason at Enertion Boards has been developing and innovating within the electric skateboard scene for quite some time and it shows. From complete builds to individual components, Enertion is proof of concept that DIY and ready to run solutions can co-exist peacefully. So when it came time to choose a power solution, I knew the Enertion Space Cell was the best bang for the buck hands down. Without getting too deep into battery comparisons, the 10S Space Cell is a self contained unit with a battery management system, power button, charging port and voltage display. Jason was also kind enough to give me advice on my components, measurement specs for my enclosure and overall encouragement to see my build through. It’s almost like he’s on a personal mission to outfit every man, woman and child on earth with an electric skateboard and I look forward to where he takes Enertion by next year.
OLLIN BOARD COMPANY VESC – OPEN SOURCE ESC SPEED CONTROLLER
The VESC is currently the best electronic speed controller created specifically for electric skateboards by Benjamin Vedder. Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company was another helpful resource for providing recommended settings on my build and constant updates on the VESC’s features. Once it arrived, the VESC quality was top notch with heavy duty wiring and clean soldering all around. Like a master chef preparing an expensive meal, Jeramiah uses military grade, gold plated PCB’s along with a re-flow oven for soldering components and various stages of firmware testing to ensure maximum efficiency.
TORQUEBOARDS 2.4GHZ MINI REMOTE CONTROLLER
I wanted an affordable, reliable, small remote so I went with this TorqueBoards 2.4Ghz Mini Remote from DIY Electric Skateboard. It isn’t fancy and is not really in the same league as slick production board remotes but it seems to last forever on 2 double A batteries and well – it just works like hell. With it’s small compact receiver, zero dropouts and transmission errors, this remote had my attention but now has my confidence. TorqueBoards is also very active on social media so sharing your build with him there is a quick and easy way to get immediate feedback.
RUNPLAYBACK SULACO V1 ENCLOSURE
To house all of these electronics I created my own DIY vacuum former oven that was inspired by Psychotiller from Endless Sphere and James Bruton from XRobots. Using feedback from Jason at Enertion and Jeramiah at Ollin Board Company, I created an enclosure code named the Sulaco V1 that is designed to house the Enertion 10S Space Cell, a single VESC and a standard 2.4ghz receiver. No more, no less. The specs are L: 20″ W: 8″ H: 2″ and features 1/8″ thick ABS plastic for lightweight performance, flexiblity high impact resistance, and added durability. Since I live right next door to a major ABS plastic supplier I can provide these at a good cost.
Here’s a few odds and ends that I needed to complete my build.
As I waited for parts I decided to prep my deck by sanding away the sweet Jet Spud Lips design and spray painting it with glossy black. I figured the artwork would be covered with my enclosure so I didn’t feel too bad.
Next I added the MOB grip tape which is super coarse and probably too extreme for most folks. My hand actually started bleeding laying this stuff down so I threw on some work gloves. Ouch.
Once that was done, I binded the TorqueBoards remote to the receiver, then connected it to the VESC with a JST cable that was provided by Ollin Board Company. I added a ziptie as a cable lock to prevent the connection from coming loose and squeezed some hotglue to both the VESC and receiver for extra safety. Loose connections are a safety hazard so be sure to test the strength of every wire. If it can be pulled out with little force, it’s best to start over and do it right. Also adding some velcro on the bottom of the VESC and receiver will help keep things in place once you house it in the enclosure.
Next I prepped the Enertion Space Cell battery by adding velcro to the top. I found three strips placed equally across the length of the battery was enough.
On the other side I added a few strips of 1/4″ Neoprene as a cushion. This side faces the skateboard deck so it’s important to have a little bit of cushioning to guard against vibrations.
Next I prepped the RunPlayBack enclosure with corresponding velcro strips for the battery, VESC and receiver. I can’t stress how important it is to have an enclosure that fits your electronics like a glove. Everything should be firmly enclosed and not swishing around like loose change in a jar.
I carefully placed the Space Cell into the enclosure, making sure to align the power button, charge port and voltage display with the corresponding holes.
Next I added the VESC and receiver by first pulling the motor wires through the holes and securing everything into the velcro. Once I was satisfied with the fit, I connected the VESC to the battery and added a small flap of rubber as a cover.
You can get creative here and add an entire sheet of neoprene and rubber across the whole enclosure like the Yuneec E-GO battery system. Mileage will vary depending on your deck design and weather proofing needs. I highly doubt I’ll be riding mine through inclement weather so I didn’t go too crazy.
The Carvon Hub Motor and wheels were next. I picked up some 1/4″ Khiro shock pads and 1.24″ DBS Dank Bolts to mount the trucks to the deck. Similar to the Yuneec E-GO design, the rubber shock pads are great for added flexibility and a smoother ride.
I then mounted it all to the board, ensuring that each screw was tightened equally. I didn’t go crazy here, just wanted to get the tension secure.
Finally, with everything in place I secured the enclosure using #8-32 machine screws, washers and nuts from Home Depot. There’s many different ways to mount an enclosure to a deck. Most folks like using tee-nuts for a cleaner finish and as a faster way to pop the enclosure on and off. I personally don’t mind the extra time using nuts and washers and with the crazy curvature of the Jet deck, I needed a little more play in the mounting holes.
From my initial DIY product inquiries on 12/7/15 to 1/18/16, it took me approximately 41 days to complete the build. Slap on the downtime during holiday season and the process took much longer than expected. Yet the results were well worth it. There were a few times when I hit some speed bumps, particularly in the vacuum forming process where each failed pull felt like I got the wind knocked out of me. Like my brief time spent with Miniquad FPV’s, there were moments that zapped my creative energy. I wondered why was I spending all of my time on a glorified big boy toy while everyone else around me was living in the moment. It’s like, why didn’t I just buy a Boosted Board Dual Plus and call it a day?
Fortunately, with the help of a loving supportive family and encouragement from friends, this build became more than just some kind of self serving prophecy. With DIY electric skateboards, there’s an immediate gut reaction when you see one. Like the kid inside all of us suddenly leaps through the soul in our eyes and peeks through smiling. Once I tapped back into that emotion, everything made sense. Sharing each technical step with my 6 year old daughter and seeing her wide eyed reaction brought me back to reality. I didn’t make this build for me. I made it for anyone who ever felt weird in school. Who felt more comfortable tinkering on their computers and in their garage than on the football field. The minute you understand you can build something, however you get there, you’ll want to improve it and share it with the world. Once you DIY, you’ll never be the same again. Hit me up in the comments if you’d like to discuss and stay tuned for part 2 where I actually take this thing on the streets.