Japanese Robots: Honda's UNI-CUB with a Civilian, a Smartphone, an Escape, and a Lesson (VIDEO)
In its 18 public months, Honda’s semi-robotic UNI-CUB personal mobility device hasn’t seen a lot of the spotlight, but that might be changing; last week, here in Tokyo, we managed to capture some raw footage of a UNI-CUB test ride, smartphone control, and a rolling departure (VIDEO).
• • •
A Sitting Segway; Though Much Smarter Than
“Sitting Segway” might get the point across, but the UNI-CUB is actually much more advanced, practical, and safe. As does the Segway, Honda’s mobility scooter reacts to a user’s weight shifting in the desired direction of travel, but the UNI-CUB also moves laterally and is capable of almost zero-radius turns. It's also not very fast, doesn't have a huge bar in the middle, and if you have to bail out, you just kinda, you know, standup.
Oh, and as you’ll see in the video, UNI-CUB can also be remotely controlled by smartphone... which is very cool, but admittedly is kind of a feature in search of a purpose; during R&D, it probably seemed like a pretty good idea.
And speaking of R&D, meet UNI-CUB’s ancestors:
Honda’s Array of Assistive Robotics Research
In addition to cars, motorcycles, the occasional airplane, normal and racing lawnmowers, and the UNI-CUB, Honda has a whole lot of assistive robotics stuff going on. It’s safe to say they’re the industry leader here in Japan, and probably the world. That’s not due solely to ASIMO and the proprietary technology derived from the humanoid; Honda has a whole menu of highly advanced assistive devices backed by years of R&D:
For now, civilians cannot take a UNI-CUB home to scoot around on, but the wait won’t be long. Well, at least in Japan, where, in partnership with real estate and development giant Sekisui House, Honda’s working to design homes around assistive robotics.
For the executive-level robogeek, sometimes, and by sometimes we mean always, it’s good be in Japan.
• • •
Addendum: Why Didn’t Segway Pay Attention to Honda, and Why Doesn’t Toyota Pay Attention to Both?
Before the wrap, we have to jump back to the Segway for a few moments, and we have to give Honda just a few more props.
The Segway debuted in 2001, and most of the public had never seen such technology; it was hailed as a revolution in transportation. For about 36 hours, that is. It took very little time to realize that, while the Segway was indeed a fantastic technological achievement, when it came to practical usability, it was the two-wheeled supertech engineering version of lucite platform shoes with a built-in ant farm. Kinda wow, but then kinda like... Uhhh, okay, so... it's a bit weird. What exactly do I do with it?
The Segway is a textbook example of a technology looking for a place to be used, instead of the inverse - which, you know, often tends to work out better. But it gets worse. See, there was a Japan-based company with global reach that already knew how much it wasn't going to work, already knew that Segway-style mobility was wildly impractical, and had already moved on.
When the Segway was made public, a group of Honda engineers had to be rushed to emergency rooms after losing consciousness from hysterical laughter and/or aggressive fits of eye rolling and/or face palming:
Yep, those are images from an internal competition Honda held not too long after beginning their robotics & personal mobility research in 1986. Just look at those - you can see analog pixels - they’re so old that someone actually had to photograph a TV screen.
Well, the Segway debuted in 2001. But Segway can be forgiven. They’re based in Boston, and that's pretty far from Japan. Plus the language barrier. Cultural barrier. Sometimes the food's weird over here. Etc.
On the other hand, a few months back, Toyota dusted off their 5 year-old, so-not-a-robot Segway clone, the Winglet. We’ve pointed out that 1. the Winglet is not a robot, and 2. the Winglet is going to do as Segway did (crash; lit. and fig.). Toyota just can’t hear us, they can’t hear Segway, and even though they’re obviously right here in Japan, they can’t hear Honda either. In fact, Segway clone in tow, they were right next to the UNI-CUB demo last week at CEATEC.
• • •
Images: Honda; AkihabaraNews.com