Sway Motorsports, a Palo Alto-based company that makes tilting three-wheel electric scooters, entered the Shark Tank on May 15.
Heavy interviewed Joe Wilcox about his fun and unique mode of transportation.
To read all of Heavy’s Shark Tank coverage, click here.
1. The Idea Came From a Senior Thesis
hello world! pic.twitter.com/2ffrQ3l9
— Sway Motorsports (@swaymotorsports) March 19, 2012
Wilcox was an Industrial Design student at Rhode Island School of Design. An avid motorcyclist, he had had a few close calls and decided to study the subject of multi-wheeled tilting vehicles. “I found that lots of big manufacturers had tried to do the same thing, but none had seen success in the marketplace, because their solutions were computerized or hydraulic and very expensive,” Wilcox explained. “I wanted a solution that did not require computation or hydraulics, that could actually be a viable value proposition.”
For his senior thesis, he proposed developing a new kind of tilting vehicle. While in his last year at school, he developed the first prototype over a 12-week period.
While still make adjustments to the product, he worked as an industrial designer at NASA, MIT and IDEO.
2. It Operates on 3 Wheels
Building the Future: Exciting news to come next week on our path to production… pic.twitter.com/uUvjrQmdye
— Sway Motorsports (@swaymotorsports) May 9, 2015
Wilcox understood the safety issues of riding on two-wheelers. “The main problem with two-wheelers is that they can fall over for any number of reasons – if they hit a slick spot, or braking in a hard corner, or you didn’t navigate a turn properly or the front wheel caught a groove or a cable car track,” he explained.
He assures us that once you sit on a Sway bike, you will immediately feel a difference. People of all ages will acclimate quickly, since Wilcox valued making them as “intuitive and easy to operate as possible.” According to him, everyone from “grandma down the street to the expert biker” will be comfortable riding. This is due, in part, to the disc brakes up front that give it an “unparalleled stopping power.” Of course, he does admit that no ride is completely without risk.
The company has watched hundreds of people ride their bikes and is happy with the results. “There is a learning curve, but it’s very quick – Most people are comfortable after their first couple turns. The learn to trust the vehicle quickly,” Wilcox said. “We’ve had hundreds of riders on Sway and everyone was able eventually to ride it.”
3. There Are ‘Hundreds, If Not Thousands’ of Adjustments to the 1st Prototype
Seven years of research went into developing the bike. “Eventually I engaged Motivo Engineering in Torrance California and over the course of several years, tuned all aspects of the steering and tilting linkage – camber, caster, rake, trail, and eliminated scrub and bump steer so that Sway is super intuitive and seamless for anyone to ride,” Wilcox explained.
The patented Sway-tilt control technology on which the company prides itself came about through “blood sweat and tears.” Of the 8-year endeavor, Wilcox said, “At IDEO we talk about failing early and often in order to succeed sooner, and we definitely did this with Sway. We built a hundred ways it didn’t work right to get to one that did.”
It took them three years to get their two patents, which came in 2009 and 2010.
4. Sway Lithium Will Come Out in Summer of 2016
As far as a target date for the first shipment, Wilcox predicts it will be in the summer of 2016. They hope to release Lithium Plus shortly after that.
When asked about his plans for the future, he said:
We have a lot of work to do to make that happen and we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. Our goal is to make the best Sway electric tilting trike we can – and bring it to the world.
5. ‘Shark Tank’ Helped Joe See His Product in a New Way
Wilcox applied to the show because he felt that Sway would be a great product for them.
Pitching the Sharks opened his eyes to the company in a way he never before experienced.
When you’re developing a product you tend to be really close to it and see it through the lens of what you want it to be. When you pitch a product you are forced to confront how others see it, which is always illuminating and helps you see your product in a different way.