Honda UNI-CUB: what is it and why would you want one?

Is this the future of people moving?

If you've ever thought "wouldn't it be great if I could move around the place merely by twitching my buttocks?" then we've got good news for you: the Honda UNI-CUB could well be the answer to your lazy prayers. It's a "personal mobility device" that enables you to scoot about the place like something out of WALL-E. So what is it, and why has Honda built it?

The UNI-CUB is controlled by your bum

Unlike traditional personal mobility vehicles, the UNI-CUB doesn't have handlebars. Instead, it's controlled by the user shifting his or her weight. The UNI-CUB works out what direction you want to go in, and how quickly you want to go. If you'd rather use your digits than your derriere, the vehicle will also be controllable via smartphone app.

The UNI-CUB won't fall over, much

To keep the UNI-CUB stable, Honda has given it the gyroscopic Honda Omni Traction Drive System we first saw back in 2009. As before there's a large wheel to propel you around the place, but this time there's also a rear wheel to help with balance and steering. The technology in the UNI-CUB was originally designed to keep robots such as Honda's ASIMO upright as they move around.

The UNI-CUB can't do stairs

While stairs are beyond its remit — it has a wheel, not legs — the UNI-CUB can go up inclines as well as operate on level surfaces. You wouldn't want to take it up a mountain, but nobody's suggesting it's a rugged vehicle for outdoor use. Honda says it's for "barrier-free indoor environments".

The UNI-CUB is quite fast and it goes quite far

The UNI-CUB's Lithium-Ion battery is good for a fairly impressive 6 kilometres per hour, and its maximum range is currently 6 kilometres. We're very good at sums, so we've worked out that the battery runs out of puff after an hour. 6Km/h isn't much compared to normal vehicles, but it's designed to be used where other people are walking: if it went much faster it'd be a hazard, not a helper.

The UNI-CUB doesn't let you tower over people like a crazed seated overlord

Honda's deliberately made the UNI-CUB 74.5cm high so that when you're on it, you're neither looking up non-users' noses or towering over them like a movie villain, and its size and movements are intended to enable you to move among other people without taking up loads of space or running anybody over — something that doesn't always apply to today's mobility devices, or even the enormous Segway.

"This configuration promotes harmony between the rider and others," Honda says, "letting the rider travel freely and comfortably inside facilities and among moving people."


The UNI-CUB release date isn't any time soon

The UNI-CUB project is part showcase and part experiment: it's showing off what Honda's robot engineers are capable of, and it's going to let them test their technology in real-world environments. Honda says that the UNI-CUB project "will explore the practical applications of the device in a wide range of environments in Japan and other countries." Don't expect to see one in your local Honda dealer any time soon, though: while the UNI-CUB looks very close to a real, shipping product, Honda doesn't have any current plans to put it on sale. It's more likely that the technology will end up in various products, from robots to wheelchairs.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.