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Zionsville grad builds hoverboard for Mark Cuban

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (WISH) - The next generation of hoverboards will be released in late November - just in time for the holiday shopping season. Indiana University graduate and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban started Radical Transport, the company now building the MOOV board, but the product's Indiana connections go well beyond its founder.

EJ Williams, 24, is one of two engineers hired to create, design and build the MOOV. Williams is a 2011 graduate of Zionsville Community High School and a 2015 graduate of Purdue University, where he majored in mechanical engineering.

"When a billionaire comes calling, you go down to Dallas," says Williams, who was summoned two months after graduation to pair with an aerospace engineer to create the MOOV.

Williams has a long-standing family connection to Mark Cuban, who in 1979 borrowed a few thousand dollars from EJ's father to start the Bloomington bar Motley's. Cuban closed it in 1981 after graduation.

The path to make MOOV

EJ Williams and his engineering partner started their hoverboard development process by first visiting China for two weeks in late 2015 to observe the assembly process. By early 2016, they began designing what would be the first hoverboard to feature a flat deck and a weight-based torsion technology.

"All traditional hoverboards have a swivel in the middle - they kind of come to an hourglass shape," says Williams. "Ours is one solid piece of aluminum. Where the swivel used to be on traditional hoverboards, we put a handle and a much sleeker chassis."

The MOOV has a sporty look with nine-inch wheels and interchangeable decks for customization. The board is also designed, engineered and assembled in the United States.

Williams, a mechanical engineer, designed one of the circuit boards that handles the sensors and microcontroller. He was uniquely qualified to build this kind of project because of his experience in self-balancing and electric vehicle technology - both of which he started working with in high school.

"He was one of those kids that just was curious, was never satisfied with an explanation, he wanted to really dig deeper and know the answer," says Matt Mulholland, AP physics teacher at Zionsville Community High School.

Williams was in two physics classes taught by Mulholland - in 2008 and 2010. For his senior project in AP physics in 2010, Williams decided to build a self-balancing scooter - better known as a Segway.

EJ applied and received a $3,000 grant from the Zionsville Education Foundation to build the so-called "Zegway." He managed to find a similar project that had been built in 2008 by a senior engineering student at Purdue and spent $1,000 to acquire the parts.

"We hunted down the student who built it and found it broken down as parts in a closet," says Williams.  "The wheels were off, [it had a] burnt-out microcontroller, so we were able to partner with Purdue and use it as a foundation."

The project took months to complete. After several Saturdays traveling back and forth from Purdue, the Zegway was ready to ride.

"Some of those early days when we got it running, we were testing it and running into walls," says Mulholland. "It was a little bit crazy."

While the Zegway was a big project for a high school student, Williams says Mulholland is the reason he was able to dream big.

"[Mulholland] really stirs the curiosity in students," says Williams. He doesn't really get in the way of someone who wants to pursue their passion, so his excitement for physics sparks it in the students. That's the reason why so many kids come out of his class and want to major in all these different STEM fields."

Working with EV

Two years prior to EJ Williams' arrival at Purdue, the university received a $6 million grant from the Department of Energy to start the EV Grand Prix to race electric go karts. The EV Grand Prix takes place every year at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May. It incorporates high school and collegiate teams who build electric go karts and race them at the speedway.

When Williams entered college, he began working to build electric go karts for the Grand Prix.

"From learning how to build the karts and teach students how to build them, that really gave me a great foundation for electric vehicles and embedded systems," says Williams.

In 2014, Williams scored an internship at Tesla motors where he was on the team that programmed the powertrain.

"Our daily routine was getting in the Tesla, putting in our new program to test something out and driving it to see if it worked, so we were truly programming an electric vehicle, " says Williams. "When it came time to build this hoverboard for Mark Cuban, it was great to have the knowledge in building electric vehicles and the knowledge from back in high school of self-balancing."

Market for the MOOV

When the MOOV goes on sale in late November, it will hit a saturated market of hoverboards priced as low as $147.99. The MOOV board will be priced much higher than that at $1,499.

"We don't see this as a child's toy at all. This is actually a utility device," says Williams who explains the MOOV as a "last mile" vehicle for urban commuters with a 12-mile range on one charge, with an average range between eight to ten miles.

Williams names OneWheel, BoostedBoards and Urb-e as close competitors to the MOOV.

Radical Transport is one of the first hardware companies Mark Cuban started. Cuban funded all of the engineering, design and prototyping of the MOOV, but chose a Kickstarter campaign as the final step before launch to judge whether people would buy the product.

The MOOV launched on Kickstarter July 12 with a goal of $50,000. It was fully funded within two days and is currently funded about $77,000. The board is available for pre-order right now at a lower price of $1,199 as the team gauges market viability.

Williams says molds are currently being made for mass-production of the MOOV board and shipping begins in late November.

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