Honda rolls out ‘Segway’ of unicycles

by Hiroko Nakata

Honda Motor Co. unveiled on Thursday a new compact self-balancing vehicle that looks like a futuristic unicycle.

Unlike other self-balancing devices like the two-wheeled Segway or Toyota Motor Corp.’s Winglet, Honda’s U3-X is a one-wheeler. It can move back and forth and even side to side, thanks to a ring of small perpendicular wheels lining the outer edge of the main wheel, Honda said.

The vehicle has a seat on the top and a tiny footrest on each side of the wheel. Riders steer by shifting their weight, while balance-control technology developed from research for the Asimo, Honda’s bipedal humanoid robot, automatically keeps it upright, Honda said.

“This is the result of our efforts to create a mobility device that can exist together naturally with human beings,” Honda President Takanobu Ito told a news conference in Tokyo.

The vehicle weighs less than 10 kg, making it easy to carry by its handle.

Honda officials said they think the electric unicycle will mostly be used indoors.

But Ito said the company isn’t planning commercial sales just yet because the device is still in the experimental stage.

“We have not yet determined whether to jump into the market or not. We will think about and try many kinds of possibilities for the device,” he said.

The motor-driven device can operate for an hour on its lithium-ion battery, which takes 90 minutes to charge, the company said.

Honda plans to showcase the U3-X at Tokyo Motor Show 2009, which gets under way Oct. 24 at the Makuhari Messe convention center in the city of Chiba.