Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Honda’s new wheel

September 26, 2009

It looks deceptively simple: a stool with a wheel, or an electric unicycle.

But Honda Motor, maker of cars, motorbikes, robots and aircraft, says it embodies state-of-the-art technology and may one day become the smallest means of transport for humans.

JAPAN/

I saw the new U3-X at a Honda media launch. It’s shaped like a figure-8 and moves in any direction set by the person sitting on top, by leaning their body back, forth and sideways.

It weighs in at under 22 lb (10 kg), runs about an hour on one charge of its battery at up to about 4 mph (6 kph), about the pace of brisk walk.

The machine uses balance control technology developed in its research efforts on its famous Asimo humanoid robot, Honda told us, but is not ready for sale yet as the company is still developing it.

When the company showed the device to reporters, some were quick to ask whether it is Honda’s answer to Segway, a two-wheeled battery-powered scooter, which has come to be seen as a pioneer in futuristic personal mobility.

But Honda’s machine is lot smaller and slimmer, compact enough for an indoor ride — although it’s still too big for my one-room apartment.

So, rather than fun-seeking urban youth that have been attracted to Segway, Honda’s moving stool is more likely to find many of its potential patrons among the senior people looking for walking aid.

“If my legs get a little weak, I would like to have this around in my house. It’s easy to move around,” said Honda’s recently appointed 56-year-old CEO, Takanobu Ito.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

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