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.
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It’s pretty compact and weighs in at roughly 22 pounds, which makes it easy to pick up by the handle and lug up a flight of stairs. But the fastest it’ll go is about 4 miles an hour, just a brisk walking pace, and the lithium-ion battery runs for just about an hour, so it’s hard to imagine what the potential market for this thing would be. (The Honda spokesman suggested it could be used by security guards who need to patrol around a site, or rented out to museumgoers so they can browse from painting to painting for an hour or so without tiring their tootsies. Although the high-pitched vacuum-cleaner-like whine from the motor might be a bit distracting to other art lovers.)
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.