Friday, May 7, 2010

Monocycles revisited

Last fall I blogged about a monocycle, the MV Agusta 60cc  Monomoto Superleggera, that was supposedly raced in the 1960’s in Italy. Well that was the story, but the reality was somewhat different. One needed only to look at the picture to see that not only wasn’t it a functioning single-wheeled racer, but in the 1960’s technology hadn’t yet been invented to keep the rider from doing a face plant every time he tried to slow down. So while the bike in question was an interesting art piece, that’s all it was.
Fast forward 40 years to 2001. Engineers had mastered the use of electronics to keep people upright while moving forwards or backwards on two parallel wheels, and the Segway personal transporter is unveiled. While undoubtedly cool, the resulting vehicles never really took off like the developers planned. The biggest challenges to its widespread adoption were cost and the fact that no jurisdiction seemed to know how to classify it. Was it a motor vehicle? A weird bicycle? Did you need a license to operate it and a permit to put it on the road? Should riders wear helmets? And the list goes on. So like most bureaucrats faced with tough decisions, they just made it illegal on public roadways and so the Segway was instead relegated to filling small niche markets like mall security, crowd control, and golf courses.
Now 10 years later, Honda has significantly raised the bar on the personal transporter concept. Still in prototype, the U3-X is the first mono-wheeled vehicle that I’m aware of that can not only go forwards and backwards, but also sideways and diagonally. And the technology used to do that is decidedly cool. Wheels within wheels. Which, I guess strictly speaking would no longer classify it as a mono-wheel. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care. This little gizmo is truly amazing.
I don’t expect to see these available at the local Honda dealer any time soon for all the same reasons there isn’t a Segway dealer in every town. But as a prototype, the U3-X proves a technical concept which could see use in many future products, including those that help people with mobility issues. 

7 comments:

  1. Cool concept, but the practical application remains to be seen. It could be a godsend to folks with mobility issues, but for otherwise healthy folks, it could encourage laziness. Americans, whose waistlines seems to keep growing and growing, need to walk more, not less.

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  2. Ken - That thought occurred to me too - visions of Wall-E!

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  3. Just for fun, It would be cool to have one to tool around on. But just like the Segway, unless they are dirt cheap, They won't sell a ton of them because it's use for most is impractical and no necessary. Those of us who buy that kind of stuff will likely stick to motorcycles! LOL!

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  4. Mr. M - I agree. The cool factor is high, but so are motorcycles!

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  5. Great article amigo...what I'm thinking is that the technology used here by Honda could probably be adapted to a motorcycle in order to give it a stable, comfortable and safer ride.
    It remains to be seen if any motorcycle manufacturer will actually think about it

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  6. Baron - Thanks. That's what makes these prototypes so interesting - you're never sure where the spinoffs will be.

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  7. From an engineering point of view it sure is feasible and the article is very interesting. I believe the technology can be adapted to improve a regular motorcycle's ride.

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