I believe that half the fun in life comes from constantly challenging yourself and trying out new things. But recently, I surprised even myself when I agreed to test the IO Walk, a self-balancing board that seemed to represent everything I feared most. Seemingly unstable, highly sporty, with reports of similar brands self-combusting... these were boards that I'd seen only reckless 12-year-olds trying out at Mumbai's Marine Drive.
The IO Walk personalised with my logo
So what exactly is an IO Walk?
According to the company that markets these devices in India, the IO Walk "provides the user personal transportation based on dynamic balancing principles calculating the user's centre of gravity using gyroscope and acceleration sensors." Popularly called a hoverboard or, more correctly, a self-balancing board, it's been brought to India by three enthusiastic young entrepreneurs, Hitesh and Lokesh Gurnani and Karan Kulchandani. They say it's a "luxury toy" which can be a fun and environment-friendly mode of getting around in the urban space for people of any age or gender.
It's best to start in the child mode, which doesn't let the board go beyond a speed of 3kmph (it can whiz around up to 15kmph).
How you're supposed to work it
The IO Walk is said to be very intuitive and easy to use. You just need to lean in the direction you wish to go, indicate this by pushing your toes down, and the machine does the rest of the work for you. Now, seeing the guy who delivered it using it, you'd think he was born with wheels on his feet. He actually made it look really easy. "You just hop on, catch your balance and you can start moving," he said, demonstrating just that. A few cautioning tips... you need to make sure your feet are placed firmly in a manner that doesn't make the IO Walk pivot. It's best to start in the child mode, which doesn't let the board go beyond a speed of 3kmph (it can whiz around up to 15kmph if you pull out all the stops!). To stop, you just hop off from the back.
How I worked it
Day 1: Not quite as reckless as those pre-teens at Marine Drive, I approached the board like it was going to bite me. Very gingerly, I placed a tentative toe on it. It whirred and moved! How was I going to get onto this seemingly sentient board that looked like it wanted to see me take a spill? I decided to take support of my sideboard (I was doing this indoors to start with so there would be fewer people to laugh at me) and get on.
Not quite as reckless as those pre-teens at Marine Drive, I approached the board like it was going to bite me.
Getting on wasn't difficult but staying there was quite a task. I had to use my hips to balance and pivot, so the IO Walk didn't slip out from under me. If you've ever stood on a swing, you'll get an idea of what I mean. Only in this case, you don't have anywhere to put your hands or cling on to. Note that I was trying the Elite version, but the Elite Plus does come with a Segway-like handle, which I'm thinking will make the whole process much easier.
While I was initially quite intimidated, I was soon up and going, making turns and being able to hop off. Perhaps not as gracefully as I might wish, but much better than I expected!
Day 2: I thought it would be easier to try out the "vehicle" in a more open space so I optimistically took it to the Worli Sea Face for a bit of fun. But it became a bit of an ordeal thanks to intensely curious passers-by and the unevenness of the surface. For someone more confident on it, the IO Walk would have been a pleasurable experience on the promenade. For me, I had to shamefacedly lug it back home. I didn't want to give up on trying to master this machine though, so I decided to try it out in my building corridor, which has really smooth tiles and adequate space to muck around in. This is where I got my second wind with the IO Walk. Suddenly, it was so easy to hop on and hop off, I got into the groove and my body felt its rhythm. I was zipping around quite comfortably and, most importantly for me, I was ENJOYING it for the first time!
I optimistically took it to the Worli Sea Face, but it became a bit of an ordeal thanks to intensely curious passers-by and the unevenness of the surface.
Day 3: By now, I was so comfortable on it, I was actually wishing I had the Beats version, which lets you stream music of your choice as you go! The charging apparatus and remote control are really simple and I was pleased to see that it worked tirelessly for about 13 hours over three days on just one zap (I wasn't going very far or fast, though).
If you're the agile, athletic sort, mastering the IO Walk won't take you as long as it took me!
In fact, I was really sad to send it back to the company because I would have liked to take it for my next shopping spree at the mall. No more aching feet!
Safety: It's something you need to get the hang of before you take it for a spin. I've seen someone falling off and it wasn't pretty. But if you're the agile, athletic sort, mastering the IO Walk won't take you as long as it took me! There have been several reports of such boards catching fire and they have been banned by many airlines. The easily-Googleable fact is that the boards that self-combusted were all cheap (mostly Chinese-made) rip-offs of the real thing. I'm told that the IO Walk runs on superior batteries that are properly fixed in the body, which is made up of ABS (the same tough material used to make car bumpers). Indian roads aren't quite as clean and clear as pavements in more developed countries so it may be a little difficult to get a lot of usage out of it as a transport or commuting device. Even so, given its sturdy build, I think it's a great (and eco-friendly!) way to get around.
It certainly isn't a cheap thrill. The Elite (which I tested) is priced at ₹50,000...
Style: It's an eyeball-grabber wherever you go and can even be customized with your name or a company logo (they put my blogsite name "The Hungry Happy Hippy" on for me!). It's the new "it" toy and if it's allowed in malls and clubs, I see it becoming quite popular for all ages and genders, especially for the younger, more adventurous set.
Affordability: It certainly isn't a cheap thrill. The Elite Plus at ₹55,000 comes in two colours with the ABS body, Samsung battery and a handle for better control. The Elite (which I tested) is priced at ₹50,000; it has a remote control, ABS body, Samsung battery and is available in six different colours. The Beats version at ₹36,000 has built-in Bluetooth speakers, no handle, no remote control and a battery from another company.
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