Honda Unveils New Personal People Mover

The race toward sustainable mobility is moving car companies in odd and unexpected directions. For example, Honda today unveiled the U3-X, a compact electric personal mobility device that fits between the rider’s legs to provide movement forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonally.

Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility

The PUMA people mover developed by General Motors and Segway.

The Honda U3-X is made to easily use, carry, or store. The 22-pound device has a foldable seat and footrests—and a body that functions as the frame in which users can retract the various components. When unfurled, riders jump on and go—adjusting speed and motion by simply shifting weight. The precise capabilities of the single-wheeled U3-X were achieved in Honda’s robotics program, which also produce the ASIMO two-legged robot.

It reminds us of the strange two-wheel, two-seat electro-gyroscopic vehicle that General Motors unveiled last year. That device, called the PUMA or Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, was the first in the world to combine electric drive with both vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and autonomous driving and parking. A few years ago, Toyota showed a similar three-wheeled i-Real personal mobility vehicle.

But the most appropriate allusion could be the personal mover-feeder-monitor device used by blob-bodied people in the Pixar movie Wall-E. In the dystopian animated film, human beings are permanently strapped into car-chairs, and plugged into computer messages. In the film’s futuristic world, people have ceased using, or being able to use, their legs for mobility.

Toyota i-Real in Action
Wall-E Blob-People

Top: Toyota i-Real in Action
Bottom: Still from Wall-E.

Perhaps we should be moving in the opposite direction: using human power to provide propulsion for car-like vehicles, rather than building car-like mobility devices to supplant human locomotion. Last year, Hungary-based carmaker Antro gave foot pedals to all three front-row passengers in its Solo tribrid—gas-electric-human—concept car. The pedals provide the opportunity to recharge batteries like a crank flashlight—and to get a workout on your way to work. That design brings us full-circle in history—sort of—to the Flintstones car.

With up to 80 percent of the world’s humans projected to live in cities within a few decades, the mobility needs of urban dwellers will rank high for automakers. Academics and theorists have long predicted that new modes of city transport would emerge to meet those needs. At the same time, cars, electric motors, computers, and mobile communications are converging. So expect more concept designs like the Honda U3-X in the future.

Honda is planning to showcase the U3-X at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show.

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  • Mr.Bear

    I’m sure it will have all the success of the Segway.

  • Anonymous

    Reality is heading too close to Wall-E for comfort.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    These nut cases are giving alternative transportation a bad name. We need new propulsion, not freak show vehicles.

  • DC

    Maybe I am a little slow, I don’t “get” that UX-3 thing. Is it for people for whom using their feet while…on their feet is too much effort? And that PUMA thing, how is it any better than those things all those American “Cart People” tool around in? Wait I see it, it takes the concept to the next level, autonomous driving AND parking. Clearly its meant to appeal to people that are not only too fat and useless to walk, but also too lazy to actually do there own driving and parking. I too own a personal urban mobility vehicle, I call it my ‘Bike’. The only thing concepts like these prove is that some people have too much money and time on their hands.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    I like the Antro Solo concept. If they would redesign the vehicle for one or two people, I would consider buying one for the exercise I could get going to and from work. It could not be any worst than riding a recumbent bicycle. And if one did not feel well enough for exercise, they could still make it to work due to the hybrid nature. I am sure that the amount of energy produced by pedaling is small, but it is a “free” source of energy as long as one is alive.

  • Arizona Auto Insurance

    We’re going to see a brand new wave of technology occur as a wide variation of vehicles will emerge. That will be the status quo until someone learns to make a vehicle that can move off the ground, making transportation even smoother and quicker.

  • sri

    I actually like the idea. This is obviously not a car replacement. But this seems way more practical than segway for somebody with mobility issues. Light enough to carry anywhere, Small enough to conveniently store and one can ride it sitting down. I just wonder how convenient will this be to ride, for someone who is not in good shape to begin with.

  • Jeddy

    Stupid …

    Another shelf item …

  • Anonymous

    To Sri:

    If you’re not in good shape perhaps it’s better that you don’t use one…

  • Anonymous

    The device itself may not have great market potential, however the technology behind the invention is quite brilliant. The Omni Directional Traction System allows it to move in all directions unlike any vehicle in history. Down the road, this technology could make Honda filthy rich because of their patent to it.

  • tapra1

    The precise capabilities of the single-wheeled U3-X were achieved in Honda’s robotics program, which also produce the ASIMO two-legged robot.Calmsa

  • tapra1