“How much longer are we going to be?” 12-year-old Dex Shelton nonchalantly asks Courier photographer Dan Toulgoet during a recent visit to his Yaletown school.
It’s becoming apparent that Dex has places to be. On this particular day, he’s got a baseball game to attend. He’s also working towards his black belt in karate.
Current comings and goings aside, it’s also evident that Dex will be going places for quite some time.
That point was made pretty clear when Shelton met with Courier staff to talk about his latest creation, an electric skateboard built almost entirely from scratch. Dex gave the Courier a demonstration on the portion of seawall adjacent to Elsie Roy elementary.
“I can get to my school from my house in about two minutes,” Dex explains.
Run by a blue tooth remote control, a pair of lithium batteries and a device similar to a computer’s motherboard called a vecs, the device tops out at a cool 35 kilometres an hour.
Curiously enough, Dex has not seen Back to the Future 2, nor is he aware of the hoverboard concept championed in the 1989 film. Instead, he got his inspiration from seeing similar boards ripping up and down the seawall.
“Whenever I see someone zip by, I’m just like, ‘I know,” Dex said.
The board’s backstory blends Dex’s life in school and out. He was tasked with a school project in his Grade 7 class that compared the fuel efficiency of electric vehicles versus those that run on gas. Seeing the electric boards on the seawall piqued his interest both in the project and owning one himself.
Over to dad, for the big ask.
“When I showed him the price he said, ‘Uh, no,’” Dex recalled. “So I went on YouTube to see how to build your own because I know there’s lots of ways to do that. I sent my dad a link to one of the videos that shows you how to build them step by step.”
That his dad Kurt is a robotics engineer certainly helped the build. Where other boards cost between $1,700 and $3,000 to purchase, the pair built theirs for $800. Part father-son project, part school project, Kurt made sure that his son did as much hands-on work as possible. He also taught Dex theories around electrical currents and wiring.
It’s pretty heady stuff for a 12-year-old.
“It amazes me,” Kurt said. “I don’t know if it’s from watching YouTube or the stuff we do together, but I’ve noticed his abilities. I’m not 100 per cent sure where it came from, because it didn’t all come from me or my wife.”
The process started with ordering parts from the China and the U.S. The month turnaround while waiting for those parts allowed the pair to work on circuitry and soldering.
All in, it took between 30 and 40 hours to build. But, as Dex points out, “Once you have all the pieces, you can build this in a couple hours.”
Seeing his son take the device for its first spin was the wow moment for Kurt. He’s built and bought other robots in his day, but credits the bodacious board as his favourite project to date.
“He came back with a big smile on his face and once I took it for my first ride, it was super fun. I knew we had something here,” Kurt said. “When you build a robot kit, it walks around the house, the cat plays with it or it you race it across the floor. That’s fun, too, but with this one, you can go 30 or 35 kilometres an hour on the seawall.”
Next on the to-do list is electric board 2.0, which Kurt and Dex are already building. The newer model will have more torque, which will allow it to tackle hills more easily.
After that, it’s on to high school.
“He’s just a really cool kid,” said Elsie Roy vice principal Suzie Polzin. “If you throw him in a room full of materials, he will come out of it having built something. That’s a real skill.”