Robot Technology Employed
"UNI-CUB" by Honda Motor Co. is steered by the driver merely shifting his or her weight.
"ASIMO," a two-legged walking robot developed by Honda Motor Co.
Another new personal mobility vehicle employs Japan's famed robot technology. This vehicle, developed by another major carmaker, is a one-seater with a unique saddle-like design. It's highly maneuverable, capable of moving back and forth, left and right, diagonally, and even spinning completely around on the spot.
The driver is able to steer the vehicle merely by sitting on it. How? The secret is that the vehicle employs technology developed to enable a two-legged humanoid robot to keep its balance as it walks. The driver steers the device by shifting his or her weight on the saddle. The vehicle then moves in that direction, in response to a modified application of the robot's balance control technology. Set to run at a maximum speed of 6 kph, this personal mobility vehicle is considered ideal for indoor use, such as in airports, libraries and other crowded public spaces.
These vehicles, both in various stages of prototyping, will be put to commercial use in the near future as a new means of transportation.
Friendly to Elderly
"Town Cart," an urban-style four-wheel vehicle for senior citizens, can be driven inside a shopping center. © Suzuki Motor Corp.
The user of a Town Cart can ride a Shinkansen bullet train while sitting on the vehicle. © Suzuki Motor Corp.
Some personal mobility vehicles are already in use. A one-seater "senior car" was developed by a carmaker at the request of medical institutions asking for a safe means of transportation for physically handicapped people. It looks like a four-wheel scooter, and runs at a maximum 6 kph. The vehicle, which can travel 33 km with a fully recharged battery, is treated as the equivalent of a pedestrian under Japanese law.
Now used primarily by the elderly, the vehicle is designed to be very easy to drive. It moves when the acceleration lever is pulled and stops when the lever is released. If the lever is accidentally pulled by a panicked driver at the sight of a danger, the vehicle automatically stops. That makes it possible for elderly and physically handicapped people to go shopping or out to meet friends with peace of mind. Since it is considered to be the equivalent of a pedestrian, the driver can also board trains while sitting on the vehicle.
Personal mobility vehicles may well be instrumental in changing urban life in Japan in a significant way. While cars will continue to be the vehicle of choice for long-distance travel, personal mobility vehicles may be used by individuals, young and old, for short-distance trips. A very convenient society is just around the corner in Japan.