Toyota Winglet to Challenge the Segway

Thought the personal transport assistant trend was DOA? Think again

Segway users, look behind your shoulder. Another “personal transport assistant” is waiting in the wings.

The Toyota Winglet will be used in trials at a Japanese airport and shopping center in 2009, with a planned mass deployment in early 2010. It’s much slower than the Segway with a top speed of only 3.7 mph, but comes in three models: the S (which is only 18 inches tall and weighs 22 pounds), the M (27 inches tall and 27 pounds), and the L (about 4 feet tall and the same weight as the M). Both the S and M use leg braces to help you steer, while the L provides a handle bar. Like the Segway, the Winglet senses weight shifts for steering and speed and can slow down or stop if you teeter too much.

In a video demo, a Toyota representative effortless drove around a stage with the S model. Trials in Japan will determine how well the device maneuvers in crowded areas, and how pedestrians not riding on a Winglet will react. The press release for the Winglet mentions how the Toyota robotics division intends to help contribute the “health and comfort” of future society. My only comment: in current society, with pervasive electronic entertainment, gas-guzzling cars, and a coach-potato lifestyle, it seems as though introducing another vehicle that does not require physical excursion is counter-productive.

But who knows? The Winglet looks slick and portable, a device that is light enough to carry in the car and use on a whim. It could also provide more mobility for those who walk to work every day. In the US, it’s still unclear whether devices such as the Segway and Winglet will catch on; but manufacturers seem to have few qualms pushing them.