WESTERLY — Comic book fans, rejoice! Your longing for a Batmobile has become a reality, though it may look a little different from the one you pictured.
“If Batman had a skateboard, this would be it,” said Westerly native Robert Worobey, inventor of the Tribey.
The neon orange, three-wheeled, battery-powered vehicle does not fall into any given transportation category, said Worobey, who coined the name based on its three wheels (tri) and the last three letters of his last name, pronounced bay.
“It’s not a scooter; it’s not a motorcycle; moped laws don’t apply,” he said. “The closest thing would probably be a motorized skateboard.”
Sliding his feet into the straps atop the flat board, Worobey dons his helmet and grabs a connected tether rope. One quick push of a button on the controller and he’s off, sailing down the sidewalk on High Street.
“When you start, it’s like riding a bike for the first time,” he said. “It’s also like riding a horse, because you have to anticipate the stop and go.”
For those who’ve ever been mountain boarding or snowboarding, the technique is quite similar, according to Worobey. Body weight steers the Tribey, and the controller attached to the rope of covered wires includes options for throttle, reverse, electronic and mechanical brakes, and even cruise control. The vehicle is powered by a 48-volt lithium iron phosphate battery pack, which Worobey described as “essentially a huge laptop battery.”
Worobey grew up in Westerly and graduated from Westerly High School in 2007 before heading off to the Coast Guard Academy. He now serves at the U.S. Coast Guard Search and Rescue station in Newburyport, Mass., as a boatswain’s mate petty officer 3rd class. While splitting his time between Newburyport and Westerly, he has also been working on the Tribey for the past two to three years.
He said he wanted a way to travel around town without having to register, insure or maintain a vehicle. The vision for the Tribey came to him, quite literally, in a dream.
“I woke up one morning and I just had this very vague, three-wheeled form in my head,” he said. “That’s all I had to go on.”
Worobey, who has degrees in naval architecture and marine engineering from the academy, said he designed 10 “death traps” before settling on the current Tribey design, which weighs 115 pounds. With the exception of the frame, which was done by a professional welder, he built the vehicle himself in a workshop at his parents’ house on Winnapaug Road.
The Tribey can travel up to 20 mph. Each rechargeable battery lasts for 20 miles at full speed, or about one hour of constant use. Worobey said he also designed the battery to be removable, so Tribey users can simply replace the depleted battery with a new one and avoid waiting for the first to charge. Recharging the battery takes about four hours.
Worobey is now turning what was initially a hobby project into a business, selling Tribeys through his new Black Sparrow Industries LLC. Currently, Worobey said he is sticking to guerrilla marketing — low-cost practices like fliers and face-to-face interactions — to advertise his product to potential investors.
Worobey said he is seeking angel investors to start mass manufacturing.
“Unfortunately, money is the answer to all my problems,” he said.
Once his startup gets the needed funding, Worobey said he would sell the vehicle for $2,900, which he believes is a reasonable price for the unique qualities the Tribey offers.
“It’s great for people who have a sense of adventure,” he said. Worobey said he is marketing to college-age students in particular, because the vehicle provides an ideal way to travel around large college campuses. It has a battery lock to prevent theft, cup holders, a storage space, a surfboard attachment space and a space to attach a bike trailer.
The lack of engine has its own benefits as well.
“It would have been so easy to put an engine in,” he said. “But the downside is it’s a lot to maintain the gears, the oil, and eventually everything dies. With an electric system, everything is separate and easy to repair.”
The battery also provides a cleaner, quieter and more environmentally friendly alternative, Worobey said. Since it has no engine, it can go on bike trails and does not have to be registered. The only traffic laws applicable to the Tribey are bicycle laws, which require hand signals for turning and stops at all traffic crossings.
For more information or to see a video of a Tribey in action, visit www.blacksparrowindustries.com