Uni-Pod pre-dates Honda’s UNI-CUB by 33 years

(or, Predicting the Future: Part 2)

Automobile Quarterly is an American hardbound, advertising-free periodical first published in 1963. Describing itself as “The connoisseur’s magazine of motoring today, yesterday and tomorrow” it is well-known for the quality of its writing.

The Spring, 1969 issue featured an a 10 page article “Today’s family car is a fraud. What about tomorrow’s?” that concluded with a wonderful artwork depicting the Uni-Pod.

The Uni-Pod is described as “…a suggestion for maximum personal mobility in a dense ‘pedestrian-type’ traffic mix, envisioned for the coming mega-structure environments and multi-level commercial areas. Gyros maintain stability and directional control and a pancake-type motor in the wheel provides propulsion and braking.”

As depicted, the physics seem a little impractical (or impossible): the Uni-Pod appears to feature an encased 30cm spinning gyroscope in the near-vertical plane positioned at the posterior of the rider. The Uni-Pod’s “bubble” would protect riders from the elements and injuries, but would act as a wind sail in outdoor conditions. Some Segway PT owners have built “weather bubbles” for their PTs only to be surprised by the power of the wind on gusty days.

Overall, the general idea isn’t a million miles away from real, 21st Century commercial devices that you can buy today – the Segway Personal Transporter (PT) and the SoloWheel. As a prediction of a 21st century future, this part of the Automobile Quarterly article from 33 years ago is surprisingly accurate. Indeed, in another 17 years it may well fare better than many of the predictions in Auckland in Fifty Years (or, Predicting the Future: Part 1).

In addition to the available Segway PT there are are a variety of prototypes and areas of research focusing on “…personal mobility in a dense ‘pedestrian-type’ traffic mix…” such as the Segway P.U.M.A/GM EN-V, the Toyota Winglet and the Honda UNI-CUB (this link has a video that shows off its unique Omni drive).

Left to right: Segway PT (first generation HT i167), SoloWheel, Honda UNI-CUB, Segway PT (second generation PT i2)

Somewhat surprisingly, a decade on from the launch of the Segway PT LA Times’s coverage of the UNI-CUB by Deborah Netburn still exhibits the same lazy journalism often seen back then, where journalists make the simplistic claim that the UNI-CUB will make people lazy, or that is not a suitable replacement for a mobility scooter because it lacks a seat with a back. Obviously, a seat with a back could be fitted, and as tens of thousands of disabled users of Segway PTs know a seat is not even necessary for superior mobility. The LA Times writer also claims “Unlike the Segway, it is small enough to be used indoors”, failing to observe that the maximum width of both devices is the width of the rider’s shoulders, not the footprint of either device (length from knee to rear wheel on the UNI-CUB is also equal to the length of a rider standing on a Segway PT). It seems astonishing that ten years after its introduction a major newspaper could claim the Segway PT is too large for indoor use. The Segway PT i-series and p-series models have been specifically designed to be the correct size for indoor environments, and almost 100,000 are being used in dense pedestrian traffic areas every day, all around the world.

*****

Many thanks to the New Zealand Segway PT owner who loaned Segway NZ the original copy of this edition of Automobile Quarterly so we could scan it. We are always interested in and fascinated by such materials.

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