Behold, the future of personal mobility devices: The Honda Uni-Cub. The Uni-Cub, which is self-balancing, has zero turning radius, and is battery powered, is essentially a sit-on Segway without any handlebars. Most importantly, the Uni-Cub is much smaller and easier to maneuver than the Segway, allowing for Uni-Cub users to ride alongside or even within a pack of pedestrians. The main usage scenario for the Uni-Cub is moving around internal spaces, such as offices and museums: Not only is it easier and faster than walking, but compared to other personal mobility devices it also leaves your hands free to operate a smartphone or some other implement of your choosing.
The Honda Uni-Cub is essentially a stool with two wheels, one very large and one very small. Within the chassis there’s a lithium-ion battery, a computer, and a bunch of sensors. To drive the Uni-Cub, you simply lean in the direction you want to go — forward, back, left, or right — and yes, you can gently lean around a swooping corner. It’s probably best if you watch the video for a better idea of how the lean-based controls work. There are two rests for your feet, but no handholds. Like I said, it really is a mobile stool.
While the self-balancing tech is clever, the real secret sauce behind the Uni-Cub — and the reason it’s so small — is its use of the Honda Omni Traction Drive System. HOT comprises of two wheels: a big one under the driver, and a smaller secondary wheel. The big wheel moves the Uni-Cub forwards and backwards — but along the length of the big wheel there’s also a series of smaller inline wheels that are perpendicularly mounted. When you lean left or right, these smaller wheels rotate, shifting the Uni-Cub sideways. The back wheel provides stability, helps with lateral moves, and allows you to rotate around a single spot on the floor.
Honda’s personal mobility efforts started as part of its robotics research — which, as you probably know, has resulted in a very long line of humanoid ASIMO robots since the 1980s. Humanoid robots also need to be agile and self-balancing, so it’s no real surprise that the research led to the creation of the Uni-Cub. There have been a few Uni-Cub prototypes, including the rather scary-looking U3-X unicycle in 2009.
The new Uni-Cub has a max speed of 6 kph, and a max run time of around 90 minutes. It’s obviously not a high-speed device — but again, it’s more for moving around an office than for getting quickly from point A to B. Early hands-on reviews say the Uni-Cub ß’s leaning controls take some getting used to, but that it does work as advertised. The device is being tested in Japan, but there’s no word of an official release date or pricing – but I don’t think it would be that expensive, if it does eventually come to market.