John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
That's the vision of Honda, anyway, which has invented a Segway-like pedestal for personal mobility.
What is making this woman so happy? No doubt it's the thought she'll never again have to walk to the fridge or bathroom, thanks to the robot that's holding up her rump like a craven, malformed cousin of WALL-E:
The device is called a UNI-CUB, and Honda is marketing it as the mobility scooter of the future. The electric vehicle has no accelerator or steering wheel; riders control it by leaning back and forth and sideways much like a Segway. It's meant for zipping around populated indoor areas like offices and warehouses, although the more adventurous types could take it for a spin on the sidewalk (just don't try cruising the highway without first reviewing your will).
This is the latest model of UNI-CUB following more than a year of laborious prototyping. Honda's cutthroat engineers are going for the final word in scooting-pedestal technology, kitting out their creation with technology from the company's famous humanoid-bot ASIMO. Their design imperatives mix dreamy koans with practical considerations like bruised shins:
Advancement of design and materials Under the concept of “Harmony with People” and “Harmony with Space,” Honda proposed a new design that enhances the sense of unity of the user and the device. In addition, softer materials were adopted in order to make the seat more comfortable and to lessen the impact when the device hits other people or objects.
This version also has a kickstand, so your lil' buddy isn't constantly toppling over during the dismount. Deployed, it makes the UNI-CUB look rather like a big-headed penguin. It's cute, in a creepy, eyeless kind of way:
Honda has been testing out the contraption since last June at Tokyo's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where headset-wearing technicians whir around inside a circle of gawkers like circus performers on unicycles. Have a looksee at one rider giving the UNI-CUB a test drive:
Photos courtesy of Honda