Honda Floats New Personal Electric Vehicle
By Yoshio Takahashi
Honda Motor Co. unveiled its latest electric vehicle Tuesday, but it is unlike any of the cars and motorcycles the company is best known for. Rather, the UNI-CUB single-seat, unicycle-like vehicle looks something like a vacuum cleaner with a bicycle saddle mounted on top. Indeed, viewed from the side, its black-and-white color scheme makes it look strikingly like a penguin.
Honda’s new personal mobility device is guided by a small wheel that protrudes from the back. It is intended to be used to get around the inside of large buildings like airports and museums. It was developed based on Honda’s earlier robotic personal transport device, the U3-X, which was unveiled three years ago.
On the UNI-CUB, riders move backward and forward, side-to-side or diagonally at a top speed of six kilometers per hour just by shifting their weight. It is latest product of the robotic technologies Honda has been developing, the most recognizable example of which is probably the ASIMO humanoid robot, which appeared in 2000.
Honda plans to sell the UNI-CUB on a commercial basis. As a step toward this, it will begin testing it in cooperation with Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.
Asked about his impressions of riding the UNI-CUB, the museum’s director, Mamoru Mohri — a former astronaut with NASA’s space shuttle program–described it as “floaty,” and “like being in zero-gravity.”
The UNI-CUB’s main competitor among personal mobility devices will likely be the Segway Human Transporter, which has been around since 2001. The Segway has two wheels about the size of those on an electric scooter that support a platform on which the rider stands. The device is controlled with a bicycle-like handlebar that comes up to chest height. The Segway can be used both indoors and outdoors.
Honda’s engineers say the UNI-CUB has its advantages. The rider’s hands are always free, and the saddle-style package makes it easy for the feet to reach the ground. Such features are important for “harmony” when weaving between and around walkers, they say.
But the UNI-CUB’s developers are most interested in how much value potential users will find in the vehicle, which will ultimately determine its price. An indication might be the price of the Segway, which costs around Y750,000 ($9,300).