Personal transportation: A Segway you sit on

Does standing on a Segway sound too tiring? Honda’s U3-X has the solution.

One of the Japanese culture’s more endearing sensibilities is its acceptance of oddball inventions, irrespective of practicality. That goes some distance in explaining Honda’s new personal mobility device, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October. Dubbed the U3-X, it’s a sort of motorized unicycle and, as such, a slight departure from two-wheel scooters like the Segway PT (introduced in late 2002) and Toyota’s prototype Winglet (demonstrated last year).

Like its predecessors, this stylishly moulded stool moves according to shifts in the rider’s upper body weight. Its drive system — a larger wheel covered in smaller, perpendicular-running wheels — allows movement in any direction. It’ll do nearly six kilometres an hour, enough to keep pace with a determined walker but leaving it massively outclassed by the Segway-riding law enforcement. It weighs a little less than 10 kilograms, affording users a modest workout after the lithium ion battery dies following just an hour’s use. It’s the brainchild of the lab-coats at the vehicle manufacturer’s R&D centre in Wako, Japan, and it incorporates lessons gleaned from Honda’s bipedal ASIMO robot.

If ever commercialized, the U3-X might one day prove popular among elderly roller-derby enthusiasts. For now, though, Honda says it’s testing units “in a real-world environment to verify the practicality of the device.”