Honda engineers provided
a glimpse of the future last month, unveiling a personal mobility device that
looks like a boom box but rides like a unicycle.
the U3-X, the new device is being considered as a means of pedestrian travel,
particularly for people who need to walk long distances. Moving at a top speed
of about 6 kilometers per hour, the U3-X is said to be fast enough and small
enough to blend into everyday pedestrian traffic, whether outdoors or indoors.
"The question for us was, â€˜How can
we create a personal mobility device that co-exists in harmony with people?'"
said Shin-ichiro Kobashi, Honda's lead engineer on the U3-X project during a
demonstration at the Society of
Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress held in Detroit in April.
Honda engineers believe they've
achieved that ideal by combining a unique omni-directional traction system and balance-control
technology within a small, sturdy frame. The device, weighing a scant 22 lbs., uses
an inclinometer to sense tilt, then sends a message to the balance control
system, which turns the drive wheels to maintain balance. During an SAE press
conference, Honda engineers demonstrated the U3-X's ability to keep its balance
by allowing it to stand on end by itself, with no help and no rider. They also permitted
users with no prior experience to ride the device, without incident.
Drivers of the device make it move straight
forward or backward, side-to-side, or diagonally merely by leaning their
shoulders in the desired direction. When that happens, the incline sensor
detects the shifting of the user's weight and then determines the rider's
intentions. To regain its balance, the device moves its wheels in a direction
that compensates for the body shift. In that sense, the U3-X is very similar to
the famed Segway personal transportation
Where the U3-X differs dramatically
from the Segway, however, is in its use of the Honda Omni-Traction (HOT) drive
system," which enables it to move in any direction. Using multiple
small-diameter wheels connected in line to form one large wheel, the device can
quickly scoot to the left or right, forward or backward. By turning its large
diameter wheel, the U3-X goes forward or backward and by turning its small
diameter wheels, it can go side to side. Combining those movements, it can
Power for the device comes from a
lithium-ion battery pack. Operation time is approximately one hour.
While using the U3-X, riders sit
atop a fold-out seat and place their feet on fold-out pedals. When finished,
they can store the foot pedals and seat inside the main body of the 650-mm
(26-inch) tall U3-X frame for easy carrying.
Honda, which is not yet marketing
the U3-X, says it isn't yet sure of all its possible uses. A Honda spokesman
mentioned the possibility of using it as a means of transport for the
handicapped, and noted that the technology might possibly also be incorporated
The U3-X grew out of efforts by
Honda's automation group as part of the well-known ASIMO bi-pedal human robot project.
Although it is not yet being marketed, Honda executives say the company is staying
with the design for the foreseeable future.
"We'll continue with the research
and development efforts," said David Iida, manager of corporate affairs and
communications for American Honda Motor Co., Inc. "We want to make sure it's
something that people can use in their everyday lives."