Meet Tony, our favorite electrical engineer and the final profile of our Behind The Flow series. A mind for mathematics and a childhood love of skateboarding make Tony and Inboard the perfect match!
Q: Did your engineering interest stem from a young age?
A: I know Theo and Patrick were tinkerers growing up, but I didn’t really even know what engineering was until I went to university. I was just naturally good at math in high school, and my brother is an engineer so it seemed like a sensible option. I wanted to be a music major or something along those lines, but it didn’t seem very practical, so I went to study electrical engineering at UC Santa Cruz.
Q: Where did you work before Inboard, and what made you excited to join the team?
A: I used to teach surf lessons in Santa Monica and had a couple random part-time jobs here and there. I was hired as a summer intern at Samsung to build a robot the year before I started at Inboard, but I consider Inboard to be my first “real” job after leaving school. I was excited that the people on the phone who interviewed me (Ryan and Theo) seemed fun, and that I was going to work on a skateboard - something I used for transportation almost every day growing up. One of the questions during my interview was “Do you kitesurf?”, and I’m not sure who started swearing first, but it was definitely the most relaxed job interview I’ve ever had. I was excited to work with athletes and build a product that was rippable.
Q: When did you join the Inboard team, and what was the mood at the time?
I was hired before I graduated from UCSC. They wanted me to start right away, but I ended up starting a week or so after graduation. The first few weeks after joining the team, we were still in that tiny garage in Burlingame. I would leave Santa Cruz early in the morning for an hour and a half commute, then get back home at about 11PM. Once we moved the office to Santa Cruz, I was working (along with most of the team) around 12 hour days, working weekends and holidays, for over a year. We built all the electronics in the remote and M1 from scratch, so there was A LOT to get done as fast as possible, with the weight of the company on our shoulders.
Q: When you first came aboard, what was the biggest roadblock with the M1?
A: The biggest issue with the M1 when I joined was that we were supposed to be shipping to the Kickstarter backers in a couple months and the schematic for the remote wasn’t even done yet - the design for the “Board Control Unit” (BCU) inside the deck hadn’t even started. In addition to that, none of the firmware for either of those things existed. We built the electronics and firmware all from scratch so that we had control over the feel and functionality of everything. Everyone was super motivated, and we pulled so many all-nighters in order to hit deadlines. We just dedicated ourselves completely and sacrificed everything to make this work.
Q: Personally what is your favorite feature of the M1? What components were the hardest to perfect?
A: My favorite feature of the M1 probably has nothing to do with the electronics, I just love the way it looks and feels when you’re skating it. The M1 ******* rips!
Getting the motor control firmware to feel perfect while simultaneously figuring out all the hardware issues we had along the way was definitely the toughest. It required the brains of our entire engineering team to figure out some of our fundamental issues. Part of what made it so tricky is that we were designing everything completely custom, from scratch, so even when we’d bring in outside experts on the subject - they wouldn’t really know how to solve our issues either! Nobody had ever seen a setup quite like ours, which made it unique, but also extremely challenging to get right. To figure this stuff out, we just had to learn the intricacies of the system and be willing to test anything, even if we were sure it wouldn’t work. We fail all the time, but we keep working through it until we have a solution.
I use an oscilloscope to observe the electrical signals in the system, generate graphs, write firmware, go outside and skate it, and then rinse and repeat. Before we had a dyno, one of our tests literally involved me skating down a hill as fast as I could with diagnostic sensors attached to the M1- had to try not to bail anytime something stopped working. We’re still improving our motor control to this day, so keep posted; we’ve got some good stuff coming.