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Honda U3-X on Tokyo Auto Show

Honda U3-XAs part of its Tokyo Motor Show junket, Honda took its hosted members of the media (me included) to its R&D center in Wako, Japan, otherwise known as “Asimo’s House.” This is where Honda is building its robot army, as well as working up new approaches to personal transportation. In Wako, it showed us three new personal mobility concepts, two of which - the first, a weight-belt-like contraption called Stride Assist Management that gives older people a younger gait; and the second, a pair of inseam stilts called Bodyweight Support Assist that lighten the body’s load - were shown at this year’s SAE conference in Detroit. The third device is called the U3-X, and I got a chance to ride it.

Conceptually, the U3-X is a Segway that is small enough to navigate human foot traffic. As such, it takes a completely different approach to moving lazy people about. First, its form factor is most un-Segway-like. Weighing just about 20 pounds, the figure-8-shaped U3-X is two feet tall and stands upright on a single, enclosed, omnidirectional wheel. When not in use, the dual seat pads fold into the sides of the device, as do the foot pegs. To fire it up, just press the power switch. This is when the magic happens. The U3-X will begin to wiggle around ever so slightly as it keeps itself standing. Pop out the seat pads and the foot pegs and hop on. By shifting your body weight, an incline sensor tells the U3-X to glide forward, backward, laterally, or diagonally.

The secret to its unlimited range of motion is something Honda calls the HOT Drive System, for Honda Omni Traction. In it, multiple small-diameter motor-controlled wheels are connected in a ring to form one large-diameter wheel. The U3-X moves fore and aft via the large-diameter wheel, and laterally via the small-diameter wheels. A little bit of both allows the device to move diagonally.

It’s not quite ready for prime time yet (the 3 in the name refers to the third-prototype stage). A few of our group, who weren’t even drunk yet, fell off unexpectedly. But the commercial applications could be enormous. For one, it would allow people to play basketball while reaping almost no physical benefit. For another, you could probably cut a dashing enough figure to win the heart of that special Romulan lady at the Star Trek convention. Unfortunately, it’s for indoor use only at this point. It will be a while until the dork revolution takes to the streets.

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Honda U3-X on Tokyo Auto Show
Honda U3-X on Tokyo Auto Show

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Honda Car Insurance for Automobile

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