Bits and Pieces: Solowheel gets raves at Vegas consumer show

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photoInventor Shane Chen rides the Solowheel outside his office in Camas.

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People always avoid reinventing the wheel, or so they say. But Shane Chen of Camas did it with pride.

Chen is the founder of a cutting-edge gadget company called Inventist, based on Northwest Camas Meadows Drive. In January, he took his latest creation to the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The Solowheel is pretty much a motorized unicycle plus fixed foot platforms and minus the seat. Retailing at $1,800, it’s far less expensive than the roughly $5,000 Segway scooter that got so famous a few years ago. Furthermore, the Solowheel is so much cooler -- because, unlike the cautious two-wheeled, handle-steered Segway, the Solowheel has a single wheel and no handle. To go forward, you lean forward while an internal gyroscope compensates, keeping vehicle and rider upright.

Maximum speed: 10 mph. Weight: 26 pounds. Average time to mastery: 20 minutes. It’s been on the market for less than a year. And it got a surprisingly great reception in Vegas, Chen said.

“It was our first time and they booked us in the smallest booth in the whole show,” he said. “But we were overwhelmed. People said, this is the only really new thing we’ve seen.” Folks mobbed the little Solowheel kiosk, Chen said. Sales have been increasing ever since.

Chen was born in Beijing but left China in the 1980s after finding his innovations discouraged. He arrived in the USA with $200 in his pocket, and worked his way to up to business owner and holder of more than 30 patents. Among them are the three-wheeled PowerWing scooter, which he sold to Razor Scooter, the mega-marketer of children’s scooters; the UltraDrainer, a nesting kitchen tool; and the AquaSkipper, a human-powered hydrofoil that lets users bounce across the surface of water.

Take a look at inventist.com.

-- Scott Hewitt

Child on the move becomes fantasy inspiration

Somebody is doing away with all the dragons on Zea Island. Only Morgan Lafayette, transported to that exotic place from our own mundane world, can save them.

Why Morgan? Because the 12-year-old girl, a nervous arrival in a new town, “never felt like she belonged anywhere. She’s moved too many times. She is very unsettled. But now she’s got to be strong for this whole magical world that’s depending on her,” said Vancouver author Shanon Mayer. “She has to develop a sense of belonging and responsibility.”

That’s the setup for “Sphere of Power,” the first book in Mayer’s series “Chronicles of the Chosen.” “Sphere” and its sequel, “Veil of Deception,” have both been published by Book Locker, a print-on-demand publisher. The third “Chronicles of the Chosen” title is hunting for a different publisher now, Mayer said. Take a look at shanonmayer.com to learn more.

With a literary track record like this, you’d think Mayer might be headed for a future of professional authoring. But the 34-year-old senior at Washington State University Vancouver is on track to graduate in December with a degree in business administration.

She started writing when she was young, she said, but gave up -- until a teacher at Clark College raved about one of her term papers, saying it was so good “I can’t wait to see your name on the glossy cover of a book,” Mayer remembered.Mayer is a fan of myths and legends from all cultures, and said she finds it easy to assimilate them into her stories. Same goes for her own background and the character of her itinerant heroine, Morgan.

“I moved around a lot when I was little, and I never felt I belonged,” Mayer said.

— Scott Hewitt

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. Email bits@columbian.com.