I'm just back from a midtown Manhattan hotel meeting room, where I rode Honda's U3-X "Personal Mobility Prototype." It's a nifty little device: essentially a sit-down Segway unicycle that looks like a figure-8-shaped boombox, with a pop-out seat and footrests.
The machine balances itself, with or without a rider. You move and steer by leaning where you want to go, forward, backward, and -- in a unique twist -- side to side. That's thanks to an impressive new wheel Honda's developed that's actually constructed from a bunch of much smaller wheels that can rotate perpendicular to the main wheel. The balance is very easy and intuitive -- possibly too much so, as overconfidence can lead to a sideways pratfall, as you see in our video below.
PopSci intern Alessandra Calderin becomes the first person ever to ride the UX-3 in a dress and heels; Mark Jannot is overconfident; graceful Honda dudes show off in Times Square
Probably the most likely nearish-term use of the technology on display here would be to re-purpose the innovative wheels onto conventional wheelchairs, allowing for far greater lateral mobility. For now, Honda's got no plans to bring this (or this) to market, and no guess at what the price would be if and when it did.
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.