John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The Unio is agile and takes up less space than a bike. Unfortunately, it's still a unicycle.
When it comes to motorless vehicles for adults, there used to be a firm hierarchy of ridiculousness: Razor scooter < outdoor elliptical cycle < Segway. But now Chang-Yu Pan has come in and shaken everything up, with an electric unicycle that has, of all things, training wheels.
The Taiwanese designer created the "Unio" to see how a Segway-style gyroscope system would perform on a (sort of) one-wheeled vehicle. The answer: briefly. Because its frame can't support a big battery, the device has a short traveling distance of 6 to 9 miles with a top speed just under 10 mph.
However, in a recent design competition, Pan listed off its benefits: It is "more agile and slippery than a bicycle" ("slippery" presumably being good for avoiding obstacles). "We can significantly save the occupied parking area up to 50% compared to the bicycle," he writes, "and it is more friendly to the pedestrian when riding at crowded street."
Advancing on the "Unio" is a simple matter of leaning forward; lurching backward activates regenerative brakes. To turn left or right, lean those directions and "spin your arms," says the designer. But don't lean too much or you might fall. "Even after some Research, We still can't set the threshold of the lean angle," he says, advising riders to use their best judgment on safety.
When the battery putters out, or operators want exercise, they can propel the "Unio" with foot power. Who could ever conceive of a better conversation starter on the street—as long as you don't mind the conversation starting, "Do you need directions to the circus?"