Smart go-karts next venture for iPod father Tony Fadell

MOUNTAIN VIEW — Tony Fadell helped create the iPod and founded smart thermostat maker Nest. Now he’s betting that the next big thing will be go-karts.

Yes, go-karts, the pint-sized cars that you might have driven when you were a kid.

Fadell’s newest venture is Actev Motors, which makes what it calls “smart” karts. The company’s Arrow Smart-Kart, which begins shipping Wednesday, is packed with sensors and a Wi-Fi access point and can be monitored and controlled by an app. And it’s powered by a battery and an electric motor, unlike the gasoline fume-spewing lawn-mower engine-based go-karts of old.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Dave Bell, who co-founded Actev with Fadell and serves as its CEO. “What’s going to make it take off is when it starts appearing in neighborhoods.”

Actev is targeting the Arrow, which has a base price of about $1,000, at what it sees as a hole in the market — 5- to 9-year old kids. That age group has aged out of the slow, bulky electric powered cars sold in toy stores that are designed for toddlers.

Actev Motors CEO Dave Bell

Actev Motors CEO Dave Bell with a pair of the company’s new Arrow Smart-Karts. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

Unlike those cars, the Arrow is larger and will go up to a relatively zippy 15 miles per hour. It’s powered by a lithium ion battery, which, depending on its size, will provide it between 45 to 90 minutes of driving on a charge. And it’s designed like a miniature race car. It’s built low to the ground. Its got fat, smooth tires that grab the asphalt. It turns quickly and easily. And Actev is selling an add-on body kit that with a nose cone and a rear wing that gives it the look of a racer. It’s even offering plastic wheel covers that can be used to allow the car to skid or drift more easily when it turns, like a race car in a video game.

Actev, which is based here, has also packed a bunch of high-tech features into the Arrow. The built-in Wi-Fi access point allows parents to interact with the kart via Actev’s app. They can stop the car remotely or shift it to neutral if they want to push it manually. The kart has built in motion sensors that could eventually be used for games or to monitor how well kids are driving. And it has a GPS radio in it, so the car’s location can be known when it’s in operation. Thanks to that feature parents can create a ge0-fence in the Actev app, barring their kids from going outside of certain areas.

But the company could face several challenges getting the Actev off the ground. For one thing, there’s not much of a consumer market for go-karts any more, as Bell himself acknowledged. He blamed that in part on the kinds of safety concerns that the Arrow was designed to address with its app and GPS radio.

Another issue: Although the Arrow is designed to be used only on paved streets, it’s not actually street legal. Actev is encouraging parents to supervise their kids while they’re driving it. And Bell foresees kids using it in cul-de-sacs or quiet suburban streets.

Actev is selling the kart through its website. Even before beginning shipping, it already had several hundred pre-orders, Bell said. It plans to eventually offer the kart through online retailers like Amazon; stores that sell all-terrain vehicles and similar products; and high-end consumer product stores, he said.

And the company, which was founded early last year, has big plans beyond just the Arrow. Actev, which has raised some $3.8 million in seed funding, plans to offer a suite of accessories for the kart, including helmets and “smart” traffic cones that could be used in games. And it eventually plans to make a larger vehicles for teens and adults and ones that can go off-road.

“This is just the beginning,” Bell said.

Photo: A pair of Actev’s Arrow Smart-Karts decked out with the company’s optional body kit sit in the workshop in the company’s headquarters in Mountain View earlier this week. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

 

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