Segway‘s personal transporters may have (so far) failed to revolutionize personal transportion and take over the world, but that doesn’t mean that companies aren’t looking at developing and improving personal transportion in ways that don’t involve cars, bikes, or skateboards. Case and point: Honda has just unveiled its new U3-X personal mobility system, a new compact experimental device that users sit on and and guide around just by leaning forward, backward, or left to right. The U3-X features what Honda describes as the world’s first omnidirectional drive wheel (the Honda Omni Traction Drive System, or HOT Drive System) along with balance technology developed for Honda’s Asimo humanoid robot. Honda apparently sees the device as useful for getting around offices and other relatively controlled environments, rather than something someone would take out onto rough sidewalks, curbs, and trails, but the device would seem to have definite potential, perhaps for folks who are mobility constrained and for whom wheelchairs and other solutions aren’t practical.
The U3-X weighs under 10 kg, and resembles a short unicycle; the device will balance on its own, and has a fold-out seat and built-in carrying handle. Users just set the device down, have a seat, put the feet on the fold-out footrests, then lean whatever way they want to go: the omni-directional wheel takes users in that direct. Users can easily reach the ground and stand, and riders sit only a little below the eye level of other people and pedestrians.
The U3-X seems like an interesting concept, although it appears riders are expected to hold on to the sides of the seat with both hands, which would make it difficult or impossible to hold or carry anything while using the device. Similarly Honda says the U3-X has a battery life of about 1 hour, making it impractical for folks who, say, scoot around a cubicle farm or laboratory or classroom 8 to 10 hours a day.
The device is still in experimental stages; Honda is planning to test it in real-world environments before deciding whether to go forward with the concept. The company plans to show the Tokyo Motor Show 2009 starting on October 24.