The modern electric scooter is a marvel of circuitry and machinery. They are fast, powerful, quiet, and clean. Just a few years ago the only way to get similar performance was a heavy, loud, and polluting combustion engine attached to the scooter. Thankfully that is in the past. Let’s take a look at some of the technical features that make them possible.
The most important part is the brushless electric motor that turns electricity into speed. It as a mechanical muscle the size of a grapefruit that can move you as fast as sprinting.
Electric motors are not new. The first working electric motor was built in 1839 by Moritz von Jacobi in Russia with money from the Tsar, and drove a boat with 14 passengers at 3 miles an hour. They work by selectively running current through wire coils which generate magnetic fields that push against surrounding magnets.
Basic electric motors contain conductive “brushes” that connect the moving parts at the right times and places. The brushes are a simple way of making sure the motors spin in one direction, instead of back and forth as they might want to. Unfortunately the brushes cause friction, wear down, create dust, and can spark. They are less powerful, less long lasting, and less safe than the brushless motors in your scooter.
Brushless electric motors have existed since the 1970s. These motors separate the two main moving parts which in scooters are both hidden in the wheel, one part attached to the tire and the other part attached to the axle. Instead of brushes a computer is used to control when and where current flows. These motors provide greater speed, power, and control.
Through many incremental improvements, the electric motors hidden in the front wheel of your scooter can continuously provide half a horse worth of power. Often they can provide almost a whole horse power for short bursts!
They are also pretty. The many coils of shining metal are there to maximize the number of electrons passing through the surrounding magnetic fields. Their golden glow comes from the use of copper, which reduces wasted electricity compared to cheaper metals.
The batteries are also a marvel. A quality scooter typically packs the energy of about 100 AA batteries. While that is a lot of battery, you don’t need to worry about wasting electricity. A full scooter charge uses less electricity than watching three hours of TV, or one tenth of what you burn each day on a 2000 calorie diet.
Lithium ion batteries were first sold by Sony in 1991. Their main ingredient lithium is one of the rarest elements in the universe. Lithium is the third lightest element, but is millions of times rarer than similarly light helium and hydrogen because stars burn it quickly. On earth it is mined in South American where water is pumped deep underground where it dissolves lithium rich salts, before being pumped back up to dry.
Luckily scientists working hard to save the planet have driven costs down to make electric scooters realistic. Lithium ion batteries are five times cheaper than in 2010. They are safer too, after years of experience with burning 787s and hoverboards.
The next important part of an electric scooter is the on board computer. The most important job of the computer is actually safety. When you hit the throttle, you are doing more than flicking a switch. The on board computer is at all times checking to make sure the motor and battery are working well. They are complex devices, often enough to run an app.
The final part is the scooter body. This too is a sophisticated part, often using advanced materials like airplane grade aluminum or carbon fiber to provide the needed strength without become too heavy. This is why today’s scooters can weigh 30 or even 20 pounds while holding riders up to 250 pounds. Compare this to the first motorized scooter the Autoped which weighed 90 pounds, with a heavy steel frame and combustion engine. Scooters are truly a modern marvel. If you own one treat them well!