The Self Balancing Unicycle: The Big Challenges of Small Manufacturing Solved


Focus Designs Self-balancing unicycle


Focus Designs is the Washington-based electronics product development startup that has created the Self Balancing Unicycle (SBU). Focus Designs’ SBU is the world’s first self-balancing, battery powered, easy to ride unicycle.

Now in its second major design iteration, the SBU product presented a production challenge that could only be addressed through a tight manufacturing partnership.

Business Challenges

Innovation is not easy. Making something as innovative as a self-balancing electric unicycle is going to take some expertise.

To get the Self Balancing Unicycle to market, they needed experts in manufacturing and test--someone to work collaboratively and help assure a working final product even with unique product like the SBU. As Focus Designs COO David Martschinske puts it, “As a small and agile company, our resources are spent on design and innovation, not on the micromanagement of production.”

Among their challenges was cost control. Focus Designs needed to reach an aggressive price point while producing their product on demand. Without the advantage of high volume production, they believed that they could not take advantage of volume parts purchasing to reduce costs.


Focus Designs found an ideal partner in ControlTek. Their unique blend of engineering, manufacturing, test, and supply chain management expertise was perfectly suited to bring SBU from prototype through production, including circuit assembly, cable fabrication, mechanical integration and testing.

Focus Designs’ Innovative 30-lb People Mover

The Focus Designs Self Balancing Unicycle (SBU) is a revolutionary gyro stabilized, accelerometer driven, battery powered, clean vehicle that has two main applications. The SBU provides last-mile transportation for public transportation users and great fun for gadget-lovers.

The SBU is easy to ride; it takes the average rider about 20 minutes to learn. SBU electronics control the forward and backward balance while the rider balances left and right. It’s a unique blend of machine and human balancing. The rider controls the speed by leaning forward or backward to speed up or stop. The SBU makes it easy and fun for riders to enjoy unicycle transportation.

The ControlTek Difference

While Focus Designs created the initial design for the SBU, ControlTek proactively contributed enhancements to the manufacturing process, including helping to update the manufacturing instructions and optimizing the production process. ControlTek’s engineering, manufacturing, and testing staff engaged more deeply than Martschinske expected. According to Martschinske, “ControlTek was more collaborative than a typical vendor. They really took ownership of the project and handled the numerous small details without unnecessary back and forth.”

Responsive Scheduling: “We Hit Our Ship Dates”

ControlTek has extensive experience with the scheduling demands small and medium-sized companies often face.

Martschinske says, “Merry Marquand, ControlTek’s Program Manager was very responsive to our scheduling needs, even in demanding situations.” 

“We had strict delivery dates, and Merry helped us make all of them,” Martschinske explains, “When supplier delays threatened the production schedule, ControlTek somehow made up the difference. We hit our ship dates.”

20% Savings on Component Costs

ControlTek helped Focus Designs reach the critical price point for the Self Balancing Unicycle with their access to discounts and their expertise. ControlTek’s bulk component pricing and additional vendor discounts reduced the cost of components 20%, which lowered the cost of building the SBU.

By using an experienced manufacturing partner, Focus Designs was also able to avoid the costly process of hiring and managing production personnel. “ControlTek helped us skip the whole headache of HR and hiring. We’re a small company and this saved us money and hassle,” said Martschinske.

Product Testing: ControlTek Comes Through Again

Focus Designs considered handling the circuit board production internally, but did not have the appropriate tools or resources to reach a sufficiently high quality standard for production. After evaluating ControlTek’s capabilities, they realized they could reach a 100% effective QA rate by outsourcing test to ControlTek.

Martschinske felt comfortable trusting his new project to ControlTek.

“From their careful component handling practices to ensuring that facility visitors wear antistatic protection gear, we were impressed by ControlTek’s competence at every level.”


Not all manufacturing firms can handle the unique challenges of building the world’s first self-balancing unicycle. ControlTek rode the project all the way to the finish line. By choosing a partner with circuit assembly, supply chain management, cable fabrication, mechanical integration, and test capabilities, Focus Designs has been able to concentrate on their primary competencies of product vision and design.

By selecting ControlTek to manufacture and test the SBU, Focus Designs was able to concentrate on their core competencies of product design and marketing.

The partnership with ControlTek resulted in:

  • Improvements to the manufacturing process
  • 100% functional products delivered to customers
  • Meeting an aggressive product price point
  • Meeting demanding delivery dates


“We love ControlTek for a variety of reasons,” said Martschinske, “but it’s their handling of the small things that really sets them apart.”

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