Since our last update we have been working to perfect the Z2’s firmware. This update will review our design process, our progress and setbacks, and the steps moving forward.
Our Process: Designing the Firmware
Lean forward to go, lean back to stop. Sounds pretty easy right? Actually, the ZBoard’s controller is calculating thousands of data points per second to make the ride smooth and safe. Inputs such as footpad pressure, motor speed, position, and direction, road incline, and dozens of additional factors are considered when determining just how the board should act.
Data logging and tracking all of these readings while riding a skateboard can be a bit of a balancing act (pun intended). Early on we realized we didn’t want to be cruising with a laptop hard-wired to the board so we invented the Z-Sled.
The Z-Sled has all the electrical and drivetrain components of a ZBoard and also includes an LCD screen and a seat. From the screen we can quickly view the inputs and outputs along with readings like speed and temperature.
It may look a bit funny but the Z-Sled was critical to the early days of our firmware testing. While riding the Z-Sled allowed us to verify certain high level concepts, we needed to actually test on a board to make sure the programming was perfected for riding.
Our firmware is driven by 120+ variable parameters that dictate the board’s performance. Acceleration curves, braking power, transitions in and out of coast and more are all adjustable by tweaking these variables.
Originally to adjust these variables we would have to remove the battery box and controller:
After testing dozens of settings per day this uninstall / re-install process got pretty old so we built a handful of demo boards that have serial plug exiting out the side. (Note: This will not be there on your production boards).
Being able to instantly flash new firmware onto the board has greatly reduced our downtime during testing.
Firmware Refinement Still to Do:
Currently the firmware runs fantastic 99% of the time. The acceleration is strong but wont throw you off, braking feels solid and effective, and the board is coasting better than we initially projected. We’re super stoked on the way its riding – check out our sunset ride last week in the video below.
Check out some stats from the ride (ZBoard Blue Battery):
While the board and its firmware are incredibly close to finalized, we've occasionally witnessed corner cases during testing where things are occasionally not up to our standards. These are minor issues, but ones that are still very important for us to solve and remove from the experience. We have particularly focused on creating smooth transitions between acceleration, braking, coasting, and reverse, developing a comprehensive algorithm that rides naturally at all speeds, in all conditions, with all riders, including up and down hills. It has been an enormous challenge, but will result in the best experience possible for you.
The ZBoard is a complex system of interconnected parts, so when something doesn’t work as expected it can be difficult to properly diagnose and fix the issue. Recently we’ve had to take a long, hard look at our motors as a potential source of past roadblocks, and we've made changes to the motor design to address issues that have arisen.
Note: We’ve had some customers email us the following question: “From the sounds of it the firmware is close and that’s good enough for me, can you ship mine now?” In all of these cases we unfortunately have to say no. We will begin shipping boards once we are confident in the performance and safety for all riders.
The next step is to release the first batch of beta boards, which we’ve scheduled for early next week. We’ve been testing internally nonstop and we’re now ready to get a few dozen into the wild. Once we complete our latest round of motor tweaks this testing period will begin.
As has been discussed previously, we will have a much clearer idea of delivery schedule once the beta testing is completed. Beta testing is projected to take 2-4 weeks. If no adjustments are required then we will begin shipping shortly after. If we need to make tweaks to the hardware or software then we will do so and continue testing.
It should be noted that other parts have been coming in every day once production begins we expect to get up to 50, and then 100+ per week fairly quickly.
As always we greatly appreciate your support. The video posted above is the first of many and we can’t get you all riding.