Honda has spent the past five years developing personal mobility vehicles that could figure prominently in resolving urban mobility gaps. The company’s Robotics division bore fruit in 2009 with the presentation of the U3-X vehicle. This one-wheel device allowed an operator to use body movement to turn corners, increase speed and come to a full stop. Honda has taken the next step forward in personal mobility with the recent unveiling of the UNI-CUB. Engineers at Honda Robotics have resolved concerns about stability while enhancing motor performance, range and speed. The UNI-CUB will never chase down cars, trucks and SUVs but Honda is taking a longer view on the prospects of personal mobility.

Former Japanese astronaut Mamoru Mori riding Honda UNICUBThe centerpiece of the Honda UNI-CUB is the Honda Omni Traction Drive System. This system allows any user to achieve operational freedom similar to human movement. An operator need only lean forward to initiate the UNI-CUB’s electric motor. Honda designed the UNI-CUB to travel diagonally, backward and side-to-side depending on the user’s motion. This vehicle also responds to the degree of operator motion with more exaggerated motions needed to increase speed. Honda is working with the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Japan to test these characteristics in public starting this summer.

The Honda UNI-CUB features a more substantial body than the UX-3 as well as greater balance. The UX-3 is designed like a unicycle with a minimal frame that allows for greater maneuverability. Honda Robotics improved the Omni Traction Drive System to function with a larger frame. The front wheel remains stationary while the rear wheel shifts to facilitate turns. The UNI-CUB swaps a bike seat for a larger saddle that enhances rider comfort. Honda also stationed the seat so that the operator could converse and make eye contact with pedestrians.

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Performance metrics for the Honda UNI-CUB are impressive given the vehicle’s purpose. The UNI-CUB can travel up to 3.7 miles per charge according to Honda. This range works well for use within corporate campuses, malls, universities and public buildings. Honda notes that the UNI-CUB has a maximum speed of 4 miles per hour. The lithium-ion battery pack located within the body can be removed and replaced easily, thus decreasing maintenance costs.

Honda’s development of personal mobility vehicles is an important contribution to the issue of urban mobility. Public transit users often struggle to reach bus and train stops during their daily commutes. The expansion of corporate campuses, universities and military facilities means increased transportation needs not efficiently met by cars and buses.

The Honda UNI-CUB could be deployed by public agencies and private firms to speed up transportation without huge increases in spending. This investment would be less substantial than moving walkways, alt-fuel refilling infrastructure and high upfront costs for electric vehicles. Honda could also contribute to a transportation chain that could eliminate the need for gas-guzzling vehicles in major cities. A chain of personal mobility vehicles, buses and trams powered by electricity could move a majority of commuters throughout the world.

Nicholas Katers is a history lecturer, freelance writer and green vehicle advocate based out of Milwaukee, WI.


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