Camas companies inspire bill for mobility devices

Measure would allow 1-wheeled units to use areas for pedestrians

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

When Andrew Ross takes a Solowheel out for a spin in Clark County, it turns heads. People invariably want to get a closer look at the one-wheeled transport device, he said.

Ross, marketing director for the Camas-based company behind the product, is happy to explain its ins and outs. Explaining just where you're allowed to ride a Solowheel, however, is a little trickier. It doesn't fit into any existing state law.

A bill now making its way through the state Legislature aims to change that.

House Bill 2404, introduced by Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Vancouver, would expand the state's legal definition of an "electric personal assistive mobility device," which currently only applies to self-balancing devices with two wheels. (Think Segway, the popular upright vehicle with handlebars that transports a standing rider.)

Vick's bill was actually inspired by two Camas companies: Inventist Inc., developer of the Solowheel, and Focus Designs Inc., which has its own self-balancing unicycle.

"This bill gets them covered by the law, to make sure that people riding their products don't get tickets," Vick said.

It's a noncontroversial tweak to a relatively obscure state law. But Vick said it makes a big difference for two companies with products in a bit of a legal gray area. The bill cleared the House by a 96-0 vote last week, and now heads to the Senate.

Vick said the language in the existing law was largely tailored toward the Segway — essentially allowing the device to be used anywhere pedestrians can walk. H.B. 2404 does the same for the emerging one-wheeled electric devices, he said.

"We haven't seen a bunch of people getting tickets, but better safe than sorry," Vick said.

The bill comes as Inventist prepares to accelerate its marketing of the Solowheel. The company has sold the device for about two years, but hasn't aggressively promoted it, Ross said.

Focus Designs' self-balancing unicycle has already generated plenty of buzz of its own. The product was recently featured in an episode of ABC's "Shark Tank" TV show.

Ross offered a demonstration of the Solowheel at Inventist's Camas office on Tuesday. The Solowheel doesn't have a seat, but two pedals that the rider stands on. It's powered by a battery that also balances the device, keeping it from tilting forward or backward. The device is the brainchild of Inventist owner and inventor Shane Chen.

Riding the Solowheel feels a bit like riding a bicycle while standing up, Ross said. As he glided effortlessly on the one-wheeled device, he insisted it's not as daunting as a regular unicycle.

"I have no business riding on a unicycle. I can't do it, and I've tried," Ross said. "This thing, you can pretty much get on and go."

The Solowheel is priced at $1,995, Ross said. Only a small percentage of them have been sold in Clark County, he said. If Washington legislators change the law to better protect one-wheeled devices, the company is hoping other states may follow suit, Ross said.

"We want to make sure that nobody gets into that legal trouble," Ross said. "We want to have this language on the books, so that way it's available for people to say, 'Look, it's OK for me to ride this.'"

Inventist Solowheel