Supercon 2022: Bradley Gawthrop Wants You To Join The PEV Revolution

A man in a dark shirt stands at a podium in front of a projector screen with the text "50% OF US CAR TRIPS" in white above yellow text saying "1 HUMAN < 3 MILES". The screen is flanked by decor saying "Supercon" in white on a black background.

During the 20th Century, much of the western world decided that motor vehicles were the only desirable form of transportation. We built our cities to accommodate cars through parking, stop lights, and any number of other infrastructure investments so that you could go get milk and bread in style. In the US, 50% of automobile trips are less than three miles and have only one occupant. [Bradley Gawthrop] asked if there might be a more efficient way to do all this? Enter the Personal Electric Vehicle (PEV).

What Are PEVs?

PEVs are a nascent part of the transportation mix that fall under the wider umbrella of “micromobility,” including scooters, bikes, skateboards, and the like. The key differentiator here is that they are at least partially electrically-driven. [Gawthrop] walks us through several of the different types during his Supercon 2022 talk, but since they are all small, electric powered devices for transporting one or two people, they can trace their lineage back to the infamous Segway Human Transporter.

Using an electric motor or two connected to a controller and batteries, the overall system complexity for any of these devices is quite low and ripe for the hacking. Given the right tools and safety precautions, anyone should be able to crack a PEV open and repair or tinker with it. As with many things in life, the real story is more complicated.

As [Gawthrop] notes, many a hacker has said, “I wish I’d been able to be involved in X before…” where X equals some technology like home automation and it’s before it got creepy or dystopian in some manner. He exhorts us that the time to be in on the ground floor with PEVs is now.

Implementation Is Key

While there isn’t anything magic about any of these devices, that doesn’t keep the specter of intellectual property from haunting this space. One particularly egregious example is Onewheel. Based in Santa Cruz, Onewheel manufactures what amounts to a Segway HT and skateboard chimera. Unfortunately for users, any maintenance on the devices, including tire or battery replacements or repairs, must only be performed at the single repair center in California. Not even John Deere is that regressive in its attempts to stymie Right to Repair.

On the other end of the spectrum is the electric skateboard community, where the DIY culture of the skateboarding community came along for the ride when skateboards went electric. Another key to keeping electric skateboards open is that the first skateboard-specific motor controller, VESC, was developed by a PhD student, [Benjamin Vedder] who open sourced the hardware, firmware, and configuration software. Many off-the-shelf electric skateboards still use a variant of this board still as the community expects customization and openness.

Electric bikes fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum since there are certainly more and less serviceable electrical components running from the bargain basement of AliExpress to the OEM-only Bosh systems. The other parts of the bike will be serviceable by any bike shop or home mechanic. A similar case seems to exist for privately-owned electric kick scooters also used by SaaS (Scooters as a Service) companies like Bird or Lime. The IOT components of shared scooters are perhaps understandably not designed to be open to the consumer.

How Can You Join Up?

As we are in the early days of PEVs taking over the roads or micromobility lanes of our cities, [Gawthrop] sees a number of places hackers could find a place. First, the VESC controller project can use help, especially regarding supply chain issues. Second, given the small number of commodity controllers for these platforms, reverse engineering the screen communication protocols could be a big help since the screen interface is arguable the weakest part of most PEV packages. Third, building battery packs competently is a highly transferable skill and could cut down on the number of battery fires from small electric vehicles which is a rare, but serious risk with these systems. Finally, engage with local and broader political bodies to make sure that laws being passed regarding PEVs are reasonable and not just knee-jerk reactions to the new.

Be sure to watch the video for all the details that [Gawthrop] humorously conveys, and if you want to go deeper checkout our articles about electric bikes, scooters, and skateboards.

70 thoughts on “Supercon 2022: Bradley Gawthrop Wants You To Join The PEV Revolution

  1. The middle aged and elderly would get around great on those things. Especially on icy roads, and in-climate weather. And really really well in big cities with high crime. Be a lot easier than car jacking I suppose. Think of the opportunities!

    1. Grocery shopping (carry 5 bags home), errands where you have to carry stuff (such as boxes to mail at FedEx), avoiding people on sidewalks or cars on the street, and of course where do you park the device while you enter the store?

      It also looks like, even if locked, something someone could just pick up and walk away with.

      Sounds like something a person who has lived their entire life in California and hasn’t been anywhere else would invent.

      1. The idea is to supply something that’s less scary to consumers than a Honda 50, to perform all the tasks that you would normally perform on a Honda 50, without petrol, kickstarts, or regulation.

    2. The elderly & infirm already have PEV’s – or mobility scooters as they’re known.

      4 wheels, simple lead-acid batteries and DC motors, shopping basket and even a rain cover if you want. What’s old is new again I guess.

    3. My parents are around 70 and do most trips on a bike, either a normal or an electric one. Most people in my country do. It’s an infrastructure and culture problem, not an issue with the technology.

      Besides, you don’t have to do everything on a bike. It’s not like my Mum does the Christmas shopping that way, for example.

  2. Looks like a lawn mower.

    You aren’t going to catch me roaming around on a lawn mower.

    I’ll save money and just walk. It will help me stay young and healthy too.

  3. 50% of trips less than 3 miles. Cool. What about the other 50%? Oh right way more than 3 miles. Put another way, you get 1/2 your trips for a negligible wear on your vehicle. 1/2 = 50% for you metric brethren.

    1. Weirdly it’s not all about you and your vehicle. What about all the other people (pedestrians, people that live on busy streets etc) that don’t want to suck in your car fumes as you sit idling at the lights with a cold engine?

  4. I guess I don’t get it.

    If your problem statement is simply, most humans travel <3 miles with 1 occupant, then sure. Although a golf-cart is literally what you are describing. There are already golf cart communities in the south east US, specifically Georgia, and in beach town communities all over the east coast. They have their own pathways, etc. Where the infrastructure and community support it, it's already there. BEV's I think the highway admin calls them. Limited top speed, not allowed on highways, etc. can carry groceries and smaller than cars.

    It might be more useful to look at where the single drivers a going in the problem statement. Are these trips to stores, to work, etc? If it's to stores, perhaps work on making same-day deliveries lower cost with appropriate incentives. Then instead of 10 drivers on the road, there is 1.

    When I see "Hackers Wanted" I think the translation is "Free labor wanted."

    You want hackers working on your battery packs?

  5. Maybe I should convert my Vespa to electric, that would eliminate problems with stale gasoline. But it would multiply battery problems I’m sure.

    1. It’s hard to beat the reliability and convenience of electric power. You plug in at night and have a full ‘tank’ every morning.

      Fire is a risk, but one that can be mitigated. Dirt-cheap packs from (mostly-)Chinese vendors are giving the whole industry a bad reputation.

      With good battery cells (known, proven brands), good battery management (individual cell voltage monitoring, temperature monitoring, etc), good chargers (constant current / constant voltage switching) and quality construction, there isn’t much risk. But low-end manufacturers seem to enjoy cutting ALL of those corners, with horrifying results.

    2. This is one of my million-dollar ideas. Most old Vespas have the motor and rear wheel in a single piece — you could make an electric replacement which could literally bolt on with only a few turns of the wrench.

      To-do: figure out throttle integration and battery storage. Probably in the space that was formerly the gas tank, but how to make that easier?

  6. Nothing. it’s just that US the infrastructure is completely car focused. mandatory watch to prove that this idea of Bradley is not going to work without huge changes in thinking and street layouts: Not Just Bikes. and he points exactly to the problems of transport in the usa. It’s bigger than you think.

    yes, I live in the Netherlands, were I only take my car once a week or so. even commuting by train and bike with smooth transits and in the same time as with a car, but I can read a book, think about things and not watch the road for idiots all the time.

    1. If I don’t stay on alert, I miss my atop. I’m probably as on alert as when driving because when I’m done traveling on public transit, I am exhausted and need a nap. I only feel that way when driving if I’m in a high traffic situation.

      1. Considering the community we’re in, have you considered using geofencing to make a phone alarm for your stop?
        Set it to trigger in the area around the stop, and large enough to give enough warning.

        Could even do two, one as you’re approaching, a second one as you arrive.

        I like to play a brief tune or audio file instead of an alarm, so I don’t need to interrupt what I’m doing to turn it off.

  7. Not everyone has the ability to ride a bike. Electric bikes help, and electric scooters are great for some scenarios – especially the 4-wheeled scooter/wheelchair hybrid variety.

    Buses range from rare to non-existent as you get further outside of urban areas. I grew up over a mile from the nearest bus stop, and there were only two or three buses each morning and evening.

    On the other hand, if you haven’t experienced the joy of zipping around on an electric skateboard or unicycle… it’s not too late to try it. These things are just absurdly fun. And I do mean absurd. Practical utility is just icing on the cake.

    See also:

  8. Let’s be honest. Things like this are toys. Curiosities.

    The real answer (to what problem??) is twofold:

    1 – people should just walk or bike more often.

    2 – our world should be designed more for (1) , but sadly it is entirely set up (especially in the USA) for cars. Other countries aren’t so car centric (like Sweden where my son now lives).

    1. Again, there isn’t just one answer to a problem, it could be a mixture of cycling, walking and PEVs depending on the situation. For example, I cycle plenty but I have recently switched my taxi-to-the-station to a little electric scooter. It takes the same amount of time as the taxi, costs less and doesn’t leave me sweaty like cycling would.

  9. Ahem. This is exactly what Segway was attempting to do. It did not work. I might try to electrify my old VW with a Leaf drivetrain and used LiFePO4 from hospital backup equip. If it can do 5-10 miles at 25mph I could get some groceries maybe.

    1. With a Leaf drivetrain, you should be able to pull more range/speed than that!

      The Segway was waaaay too expensive, and too early. IMUs, motor controllers, and the electric motors they needed are all now entirely commodity. E-bikes are mostly mainstream. The “hoverboard” is essentially a smaller Segway, and it was a kid’s toy. E-scooter rentals are everywhere, to the point that they’re clogging up urban sidewalks.

      What killed Segway was the _success_ and accessibility of the electric mobility sector in general. And I’ll second Bradley’s point that it’s a fun time to be hacking on electric vehicles.

      1. I’m also inclined to think what killed it was the massive hype about how this device to be unveiled would revolutionise transport, and how future cities would be designed around it.

        That was until someone unearthed that company’s patent showing a cartoon drawing of a person on an electric scooter.

  10. Bradley is right on target. But he has over-emphasized “cool”, and forgotten that the people that most need this type of vehicle are the ones that can’t afford a car, or can’t drive a car, or lack access to public transportation.

    Ebikes and Escooters are the best solutions we have so far. But as 2-wheeled vehicles, they are difficult for people with balance issues, or that have to carry cargo.

    For 20 years, I taught classes of 4th-6th graders to invent, build, and race PEVs for their own design. Kids this young just don’t “think outside the box” — they don’t even realize that the box exists! They invented 1-wheel and 2-wheel self-balancing vehicles that had no electronics at all; as well as ones with 3, 4, 6, and as many as 9 wheels. They built them from old bicycle parts, wood, plastic pipe, metal shelving, cardboard, and all sorts of unlikely materials. Some of their designs were so ingenious that I can imagine them being viable products.

    So I don’t think we’ve yet seen what can really be done in this PEV space.

  11. In Minneapolis, bicycles arent great in the winter, for the elderly, for people that need to carry a lot of cargo, etc.

    Busses are cesspools of criminals, drug users and homeless. They’re slow. They stop too frequently and it’s not great for cargo either. A 15 minute car ride can easily become an hour long bus ride here.

    Time is the most valuable asset we have, I’m not spending it on public transportation. (and no, doom scrolling while on public transit is not an effective use of my time)

  12. Im getting annoyed with the target always being personal vehicles simply because its the form of carbon emissions you see the most often. I belive ive seen its only 17% of carbon emissions. The other 83% gets a small fraction of the air time.

    It doesnt make sense for middle class consumers to buy another thing for an extremely limited use case which will also require another insurance policy and will probalbly kill them when they get hit by a real car or truck even at low speed.

    1. Bit of a correction, it’s the driver of the “real” car or truck that will have killed them, not the scooter they decided to buy. Perhaps we should focus on getting drivers not to kill other road users?

      Anyway, that wasn’t really your point. Tell us, what in the 83% should we hackers be focussing on? Nuclear power for cargo ships perhaps? Let me grab my soldering iron…

    2. If memory serves, personal vehicles are about half of transportation emissions, so that would amount to something like 17% of the total. Pretty substantial, if that can be halved by biking to the shops. It might just be my filter bubble, but I think other large contributors like shipping, electricity generation and meat production get plenty of attention as well.

      It’s not just about CO2 though. NOx emissions and fine particulates come disproportionately form personal transport, especially in urban areas. There’s also the issue of all the public infrastructure required to accommodate all those cars. Leads to things having to be spread out more to make room, which leads to trips being longer and thus alternatives being less of an option, which leads to more cars, and so on.

    1. I guess they haven’t heard of electric wheelchairs, but unfortunately they have a few issues, many of them caused because the users are assumed to have poor reflexes/eyesight.

      Serious and unsafe Input lag.
      Made overly heavy on purpose, so the bearings and tires wear out way too quickly.
      Sometimes complicated 6 wheel for “stability” but makes them worse on any uneven or loose surface.

      I would be all for reducing or removing the input lag and getting them on LiFePO4 batteries instead of lead acid. Maybe put the motors on a lighter minimal frame or something.

      Meanwhile we could use some light rail or passenger trains because where I live people commute between 30mins to over an hour one way clogging up the highways when there are rails traveling alongside only running freight occasionally 🤦‍♂️

      1. *This is responding to all but your last point because obviously light rail trumps in these conversations and I live somewhere that seams to have similar problems as yours.*

        I agree that those are all points, but none of those are good enough points to have a conversation about trying to improve current PEV technology AND NOT EVEN MENTION WHEELCHAIRS! I spent all 20 minutes of that video saying to myself, “Well a wheelchair solves that problem, wonder when he’ll bring them up.” “You don’t have that problem with wheelchairs. Surely he’s building up to them right?”


        He spends 20 minutes talking about wanting to look cool and not break his collar bone….and doesn’t once mention the existing tech that people with no limbs can use to get around. Yet, they don’t even get a passing reference. I really hope that at the end of his presentation when he said, “it’s easier to steer when you’re moving” there was a guy in a midwheel drive chair doing donuts yelling “You said there were more examples in the room! Well here it is!”

        Every wheel chair I’ve driven or have worked on could do that with something as simple as pushing a joystick to the left. It could do that then dart off at top speed of whatever the person wanted because as the presenter said, “throttle is just an analog voltage so there’s really no reason to settle for what they get you right out of the box.” And you can accelerate off the line like Vin Diesel at the end of the first Fast and Furious movie because the rear casters can be set up specifically so you don’t flip the chair on it’s back when accelerating or going up an incline. And they are just casters so there’s nothing complicated about them. In a pinch you could replace one with a shopping cart wheel and instant cement, ask me home I know.

        It is absolutely baffling how a this was overlooked by the presenter. The first time I saw a segway was about 2005-6 in an airport going from baggage claim to the taxi pickup. I was pushing my boss in his manual wheelchair and the exact person you would imagine to be riding a segway in an airport from baggage claim to the taxi pick up rode by bluetooth earpiece fully taking up one side of his face flocked by several assistants or reporters asking questions. My boss and I watch as he rolls past then look at each other and one of us says to the other, “The chair back at home would destroy that thing.”

        All the improvements you suggest about input lag, lighter frames, different batteries, and proper wheel config for the environment are all valid and completely achievable. Far more achievable when compared to the other options on the table of the walled off closed sourced patented to hell tech of hoverboards and patchwork DIY open source skateboard products.

        Every problem with PEV presented here has already been solved. It’s called an electric wheelchair.

    2. E-chairs are perfect for some applications. But if you can stand, and if you’re willing to invest a couple hours of practice, you can ride an electric unicycle at higher speeds on rougher surfaces, and carry it like a suitcase as needed.

      1. There is literally always some thing that is perfect for some application. If you can sit and are willing to invest 10 million dollars you can drive a tank over whatever you felt like while carrying all the briefcases you needed. But if that options not even considered I might get stuck only being able to carry two briefcases while balancing on one wheel speeding down a road that was just torn to shreds by a tank.

    1. Go broke when customers drive past, on the way to wallyworld.

      Your plan _can’t_ work unless there are enough customers within walking distance. Then maybe, but unlikely.

      This is where you decide to ban single family houses and lawns. Because reasons.

      There a plenty of zip codes where you get food from the local bodega. Move there. Vote with feet.

  13. My problem with ebikes is the cost. Why can I buy an escooter for 300 GBP but an ebike costs double? I suspect import tariffs stopping cheap ebikes from China but I can’t back that up with evidence.

    1. The most affordable way to get an ebike is the DIY approach. There’s many conversion kits you can add to an existing bicycle. If you don’t want to pay for a kit, you can always build the components yourself. You can repurposed a BLDC from a washing machine to propel an ebike. A decommissioned battery pack from a hybrid/EV can be reconfigured to power it. Companies like Grin Technologies have a plethora of high quality components for the home ebike builder

  14. How about this? Cut the legal red tape on making Ali Express mini electric cars street legal. I’m not willing to pay $10k+ for a vehicle with a top speed of 25mph.

    1. And why would you, when you could already pay $4k for an electric skateboard with a top speed of 35mph. Or $3k for an electric unicycle with a top speed of 45mph. Or $5k for an electric motorcycle with a top speed of 50mph.

    2. I agree.

      Not because I or anybody sane would drive an Ali Express golf cart in traffic.

      Because ‘cutting the red tape’ would let me run a blown nitro car on California streets.

      Also: Pulse jets in traffic. You really don’t want to tailgate me.

  15. ancient pre automotive movie pictures of Manhattan
    and London exist,there are huge wide avenues,thronging
    with carriges,carts,people,just a jamin busy scenes that are
    clearly not staged
    roads and wheeled heavy traffic have been around for
    if you want to ride around on seggys than get another planet
    I got nothing against scooters and bikes,lots of peolple
    stying around on those,but the seggy things give me the
    cold grue,blech

  16. When we moved i 2008 I found a place less than a mile from work and bought a bicycle and was almost murdered several times before I gave up and went back to working. Until the laws of the roads are enforced its just not going to work.

  17. Yea, take away the majority of metropolitan areas, and other studies found the majority of people drive 10-20 miles per day to and back from work.

    They also need to drive about 6 miles to do groceries per week, and usually between 10 to 50+ miles of range for a weekend.

  18. In my opinion the vehicle itself is the least important factor in this situation, the inforstruct that we’ve built around the car is the issue. While we can do much for the older towns we’ve ruined, we can make sure any new projects don’t follow the same issues.

    I am sick of seeing new neighbors being built with the most usually sidewalk/ driving routes with only one exit, built in the middle of nowhere. At the very least it would be nice to see simple grid layouts with commercial business space every couple of blocks.

    What would be best and safest would be keeping walking/ single person vehicle paths away from roads. I would feel less people would be worried about someone driving by and snatching their kid or getting running over, and car drivers wouldn’t have to deal with annoying distractions in the road.

  19. Save the planet by getting a good gas mileage or electric motorcycle. Trained in a safety program and with proper gear, you’re probably safer on that than an ebike or barreling through cross walks and sidewalks on a segwayish thing. And you’re going to get there faster. And by the way, having plenty of fun.

    And the price is such that most people can afford it as a second vehicle. By the way the price for starter bikes is not far off from ebike or even road bike territory.

  20. ^^^

    Come and see the person who thinks we should take advice from the mayor of Bogata.
    Don’t take my word. It’s about 15% down the wall of text. He typed the words and apparently isn’t joking.

    Also unlikely starhawk has been to the USA outside NYC and LA.
    Very typical euroclueless. Thinks: ‘It works here, where we live sitting in each others laps, should work everywhere! Dumb Americans.’

    1. I live in a small town in North Carolina. I’ve been to London, Brighton, Brussels, Amsterdam, a considerable portion of the south of Italy, Paris, and a number of other cities and towns in the UK and Central Europe. Domestically, I’ve been to NYC, Chicago, Albuquerque, San Diego, LA (including Hollywood of course) and San Francisco.

      Then my life kind of went all to heck, partly because this is the only developed nation on Earth with no functional social safety net and partly because it was the year BEFORE Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and so we didn’t have the ACA yet. (Long story short, a doctor wrecked my mother’s life, and thanks basically to tort reform back when the Republicans had Bill Clinton over a barrel because he let Monica Lewinsky talk him into putting her over a desk, despite being a licensed, practicing attorney herself, a med/mal case just wasn’t lucrative enough for her to be able to find representation before the Statute of Limitations ran out.)

      Funny how you managed to miss the obvious clue. (Not that you have any such things to begin with, mind you, so I suppose I can forgive that one small oversight.) I have mobility issues myself, and I’m actually on Disability, albeit for other reasons. The local public transit system is one of those rural county systems that tend to be pretty awful. Mine is so bad that they refuse to accommodate mobility issues unless one is wheelchair- or walker-bound. It’s a MASSIVE violation of the ADA to do that but good luck getting it enforced. I’ve tried.

      Also you sound insufferably pretentious — not to mention simply insufferable — by referring to people in the third person like that. Maybe you should get your head out of that great wide well of assumptions you’ve got there and back in the sunlight… if you can still find the way, that is. Right now it sounds like you’re so far up yourself that you taste everything twice.

      For the record, there’s a most excellent YouTube channel called “Not Just Bikes” that goes into quite remarkable detail about how to design for public transit, and, well, how to NOT design for public transit. The host goes into quite a remarkable level of detail and includes a lit of topics you’d ordinarily thunk unrelated, but that are actually inextricably linked, such as zoning and housing designations. It’s also the only channel I can name offhand where each successive episode kind of builds on concepts discussed previously, with VERY few exceptions, so you really kind of have to start at the oldest episode and work your way current. Also, the dude has a quite heavy personal bias towards Amsterdam. I kind of see his point, and I agree with it to a limited extent, but I’m no convert to the idea of Amsterdam being some sort of thoughtful-transit mecca.

      Not that you care, you’re too busy trolling. But others might like to know. I actually meant to include the mention in my earlier post and forgot.

      1. Alternate explanation: You’re just stupid.

        The fact you can’t see through the moron that runs ‘not just bikes’ arguments proves it.
        Amsterdam is clearly his prototype. Which brings us back to euromorons who don’t understand population density.

        Move to GD Amsterdam if you think its perfect. Nobody but the Dutch immegration service stopping you.

        1. Bless your little heart, you tried.

          I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you, you know. I’ve been perfectly clear as to what I do and don’t believe, and it seems, for the most part, it’s immediately lost on you. You’re either just here “for the lulz” or you’re a regular Dale Gribble. Given the handle you’ve chosen, and the fact that you’re clearly intelligent enough, I’m leaning towards the former. A pity — if you were actually stupid, you’d have some means of an excuse, at least.

          As it were, you’re clearly some combination of willfully ignorant and deeply undereducated. I’ve no patience for either, quite honestly, and at this point in time I’ve no energy to continue this little game of riposte-and-parry you’ve roped me into, either.

          Adequately fought, I suppose, albeit, sadly, neither particularly well nor particularly fairly — though I rather suspect that speaks more to the skill of the aggressor in question than to anything else. To the victor go the spoils, as it were… I hope you enjoy them. As for me, I’m going to bed… and, at least in this thread, I won’t be back.

          Good evening to you, then… enjoy your lulz.

        2. I tried to give you a pass for just not knowing.

          You say you know.
          So that leaves ‘stupid’. Confirmed by citing a very stupid youtube channel, as if it was anything other than babble.

          ‘Willfully ignorant’…Every accusation a confession.

          I’ve been around the world much more than you BTW. You are not ‘well travelled’. Live in echo chamber. Go back to fark. It’s packed full of ‘your kind’.

  21. 50% drive less that 3miles. I would like to see your poll data sir.

    Where did you run your Poll for that crazy number. just new york I’ll bet. Run that poll nearly anywhere else where even the nearest gas station is farther than 3 miles. Not counting winter time.

    It’s the same issue with electric cars. Sounds great as long as your willing to over pay for car with not enough gas stations outside the clone camps we call the urban developments. where everyone is forced to act like they love overpaying to live in a sardine can.

    Don’t even get me started on the non-sustainable resources for all these blood chem’s used to make the batteries for these EV’s. yeah we need rolling black-outs because people use to much power to cool there homes. Everyone else…. that doesn’t count towards adding more plug-in cars right….

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