Guzman-Ballen develops a wireless mountainboard

ECE News


Story Highlights

  • Andres Guzman-Ballen spent his spare time as a junior developing a wireless, electric mountainboard.
  • After developing the device, he used it as part of his entry into a scholarship contest, and he placed second.
  • Guzman-Ballen said he wanted to show that people can make anything a reality if put in effort.

ECE grad student Andres Guzman-Ballen developed a wireless controller for his mountainboard while an undergraduate in ECE. He used a video of that board as part of his entry into a national scholarship competition.
ECE grad student Andres Guzman-Ballen developed a wireless controller for his mountainboard while an undergraduate in ECE. He used a video of that board as part of his entry into a national scholarship competition.

Pursuing an ECE degree can be daunting, and students often find their own ways to relax and get away from their classes. But when Andres Guzman-Ballen was a junior in ECE, he spent his nights designing a better way to get to class—a wireless, electric mountainboard.

Guzman-Ballen, a Florida native and now an ECE graduate student, found inspiration from his love for surfing, skateboarding, and skimboarding back home. He decided to design his project around a mountainboard since it can be used on several different terrains, including mountains, grass hills, gavel tracks and streets, and the loose trucks and flexible board design gave him the feeling he was surfing a wave.

While wireless versions of the mountainboard have been developed previously, none had the innovation Guzman-Ballen added: a glove controller.

“A friend of mine was working on a project in Professor Lippold Haken’s ECE 395 class, and she developed a glove that allows the user to control a robotic hand,” Guzman-Ballen said. “That’s what gave me the idea in the first place.”

The glove controller is fashioned with a flex sensor between two fingers. When the fingers are bent, the resistance changes, and this controls the speed of the mountainboard.

Guzman-Ballen began designing the mountainboard in late 2009 and began building it in February 2010. He said he talked with several ECE faculty members for advice, including ECE Professor Peter Sauer, and his mentor, ECE Professor Steven Lumetta.

Less than a year after the birth of his mountainboard, Guzman-Ballen entered a competition he learned about the Inspiring Experts Competition from an Engineering Career Services weekly newsletter. Sponsored by Randstad, the competition had participants make a video describing why they enjoy their major. The public voted for their favorite video, and the top five students receiving the most votes would receive scholarships.

Guzman-Ballen included his mountainboard in the video, serving as a representation of why his major is important to him. After gathering nearly 25,000 votes for his video, Guzman-Ballen won second place.

Despite the popularity the mountainboard has gained, Guzman-Ballen said he would not try to patent it. He said it can be a dangerous device to use, and only experienced riders should use the motorized board. He added that he made it specifically for personal use.

Guzman-Ballen said that constructing his mountain board required him to combine the knowledge he gained from a variety of ECE classes. He learned about circuit design from ECE 210 and learned more about programming from ECE 190 and CS 225. He added that he conducted a lot of side research to make the mountainboard the lightest and strongest one out there.

The competition was not Guzman-Ballen’s only triumph., a website that features new technology, featured the mountainboard after a former IEEE president from Illinois referred Guzman-Ballen.

But the most important lesson Guzman-Ballen said he learned was not how to build a wireless mountainboard; it was more philosophical.

“When you follow your passion, you end up achieving things you had never imagined” he said. “People far too often underestimate their own strengths, and I want my project to show everyone that they can make anything a reality if they go for it. I take pride in being an ECE student at Illinois because the University has embedded a perspective that can be summed up in what renowned Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said: “You see things and ask why; I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’”

Below are some additional videos of Guzman-Ballen's motorboard:

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