Between napkin sketch and showroom floor, nearly every invention undergoes substantial redesigning. For Ben Gulak’s Uno, a motorized, self-balancing unicycle (the winner of a 2008 Popular Science Invention Award), that meant adding a front wheel.
Since we last checked in with Gulak, now a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sophomore, he has rounded up $1 million in investments to found BPG Motors, hire engineers, and rent workshop space. The original design called for the rider to crouch over the Uno’s central parallel wheels and accelerate by leaning forward, as on a Segway. Although no one was ever injured, the face-plant potential seemed high at speeds beyond 12 mph, so Gulak set to making the Uno—a bike he intended to traverse crowded, potholed cities at 40 mph—a safer ride.
Between calculus classes, Gulak and his team are debugging the steering controls and smoothing the transformation so it goes unnoticed to the rider. He also plans to lengthen the wheelbase and redesign the fiberglass body, with an eye toward selling preproduction models early next year. “It’s not quite what I envisioned,” Gulak says. “But a transforming bike is way cooler.”
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.