Tuesday, June 1, 2010
When is a scooter not really a scooter?
I was sent this link to a YouTube video on another innovation from Honda. Since I am a gadget junkie, this concept vehicle caught my eye.
The U3-X Personal Mobility Concept vehicle is the Segway of the unicycles. It goes forwards, backwards, and sideways by just leaning a little in each direction.
EnGadget, and online gadget magazine has this to say about the U3-X. "Yeah, we've seen a self-balancing unicycle before, but the brand new U3-X from Honda takes it to another level. A creepy-sterile, awesomely futuristic Honda level, to be precise. What makes the U3-X particularly interesting is it has the regular large wheel of a unicycle, but that wheel is actually made up of several small wheels in a series, which can rotate independently, meaning that the device can go forward, backward, side-to-side and diagonally, all being controlled with a simple lean. Honda credits its ASIMO research for this multi-directional capability, though we're not sure we see it -- ASIMO is biped, after all -- but far be it from us to discredit an excuse to keep up the good work on the ASIMO front. Right now the "experimental model" of the U3-X gets a single hour of battery and weighs under 22 pounds, with a seat and foot rests that fold into the device for extra portability. No word of course on when the thing might make it to market, but Honda plans to show it off next month at the Tokyo Motor Show."
PCMagazine has this to say about it. "... After the talk, we got a brief primer on exactly how to ride the U3-X: While facing away from the device, hold the seat with two hands and back onto the U3-X. At the same time, put one foot on one footrest. Sit down and then pick up the other foot. This worked for me exactly as described and within seconds I was gliding across the floor. Subtle movements of my upper back and shoulders sent me forward, back and side-to-side. To make, say, a hard right or left turn, I'd put one foot on the floor and gently turn. I rarely had to do this, though, because the U3-X responded to even my most subtle movements. The U3-X can travel up to three MPH, but even at this top speed, I never felt like I had to make a sudden movement to stop or avoid a collision. I just leaned back a bit in the opposite direction and the U3-X stopped. At one point, I rode in unison with another U3-X rider. I never feared falling and noticed that bumping into the other rider didn't send the U3-X or me into a tail spin.
I've ridden a Segway and, while it's an amazing device, it was never this simple or—more importantly—unobtrusive. A product like this that allow personal mobility to the abled and, potentially, disabled, without needing special pathways, or sticking out like a store thumb, is something else altogether." The two videos of the PCMag reporter riding the prototype for the first time were interesting.
MotorTrend Magazine also published an article on the device. "... With the U3-X switched on and the stowable seat and foot pegs locked into position, hopping onto the motorized unicycle is similar to getting on a bar stool, albeit with a rider weight limit of 225 pounds. Per the design, the rider generally maintains an eye-height level with the average walking pedestrian for a natural line of sight. Honda engineers insisted on this comfort aspect because they did not want pedestrians to feel awkward using the device. ... Maneuvering the device is highly intuitive as simple weight shifts and directional nudges are all that is needed to change direction. The engineers at the demonstration recommended smooth, gradual input to get moving on the carpeted floor. Thanks to its small track, riders are able to move swiftly and, with one leg planted on the ground, pivoting remains a natural motion. As the U3-X moves in all directions, it emits a vacuum-cleaner-like motorized noise, something that is likely to be tweaked on later models.
While the U3-X achieves a top speed of 4 mph and an operating life of one hour, Honda asserts the U3-X has been tested and will work outdoors, although any incline greater than 8 degrees and rough terrain will be problematic. It takes 90 minutes to fully recharge and mobility on wet surfaces was also an unproven operational element."
Guardian.Co.UK also reviewed it. "... The president of Honda, Takanobu Ito, said the vehicle was merely "a proposal" and the company had no sales plans, pricing or firm ideas on where or how it would be used. ..."I may want to use it in my home," Ito, the President of Honda said. "It'd be easier to get around so I might really use it if my legs grow weaker."
Another article mentioned that this innovation might lead to a new wheelchair design ... one that uses the same type wheels. This would allow a wheelchair to be far more mobile in small spaces. Since this is only a concept, there are no marketing plans or pricing available.
The innovations and concepts are simply amazing. Unfortunately, it might take years before the robotic assist devices and concept uni-vehicles are available. If I was only twenty years younger, I might be scooting around town in one of these someday.