Honda’s presence at this year’s Japan Mobility Show was hardly subtle. The automaker’s “Dream Loop” stand showcased products ranging from the surprise return of the Prelude nameplate as a sporty hybrid to the utterly cheerful Sustaina-C Concept with Pocket Concept scooter companion, and a newly capable version of the HondaJet.
There were a variety of small, electrified mobility products on hand as well. Alongside the almost-on-sale Motocompacto e-scooter (look for our review on Nov. 1) was the two-wheeled Uni-One “personal mobility device” that debuted last year. Via a translator, I was able to get a lot more detail about the Uni-One’s upcoming global rollout and take the stool-meets-scooter for a brief demo ride.
First, let’s talk about some of the base specifications for the Uni-One. Driving the device are two of the omnidirectional motivators that the company calls the Honda Omni Traction Drive System. These electrically driven wheels are able to move forwards and backward as well as laterally, giving the Uni-One incredible maneuverability. Steering the device is a hands-free exercise; shifting your body weight causes the Uni to move in a corresponding direction. Anyone familiar with the finer points of hoverboard piloting will understand how to drive this thing immediately.
The Uni-One weighs in at 154 pounds, has a max rider weight capacity of 243 lbs, and can achieve a top speed (if you really lean in) of just under 4 miles per hour. Honda says the range of the device is about five miles or two hours of operation, though neither the rep I spoke with nor the background materials reveal battery capacity (we are reaching out for more info). Honda does say that the two removable lithium-ion battery packs “…can be charged with a normal (AC 100-Volt) indoor outlet using a dedicated charger.”
Getting started riding the Uni-One is simple enough: activate the device via your mounted smartphone while seated and the scooter lifts off from the “low” positon, resting on four caster-like wheels, to the “high” position on the two drive wheels. From there it’s a lean-and-go operation, truly intuitive to drive in a rough sense, but taking considerable nuance to maneuver with precision.
My demo ride was only about ten minutes long on an almost empty section of the floor. In that time I got pretty good at making sweeping turns, stopping quickly with a backward lean, and making straight sideways maneuvers. But holding a steady position without putting the Uni back in the low position will take a lot more practice.
Honda envisions the Uni-One being used by a wide swath of people, from those who have trouble walking comfortably for long distances, to workers in large-format office or factory settings, and even kids. The Honda rep I spoke with said the device could be suitable “for children as young as three years old” – an idea that I take issue with as a parent of a four-year-old. I see this more as a current-day replacement for the space occupied by the Segway scooter from a decade ago than a toy for kids.
I also don’t think that Uni-One, at least in the basic configuration I tested, feels like a credible replacement for a powered wheelchair. Certainly, there is potential for use by some people with disabilities, but I think the feature set, stability, and overall ease of use might need to be addressed before this Honda competes heavily in the medical device space.
The test of Uni’s viability in the market is still a few years off, too. Honda says that the scooter will launch globally – with Japan and the US being the primary target markets – sometime in 2025. In fact, the demo units here in Tokyo are still prototypes, though in a stage of development very near production.
For now, Uni-One will only be available to lease, not to buy. I was told that rough pricing would be about ¥120,000 per month. At today’s rates that would be just under $800, though our rep couldn’t confirm pricing for the U.S. market. Obviously, at anything close to that rate, leasing makes a lot more sense for large organizations – think government facilities, large businesses, museums, retirement communities, etc. – than it might for individuals. But you never know.
It’s amazing to see the fruits of Honda’s longstanding efforts in robotics and mobility research coming to commercial relevance (even if my own money would be spent on the upcoming Motocompacto first). And there’s no question that Uni-One is both fun to ride and an impressive piece of engineering. I can’t wait to get one off of the show stand and into the wider world, even if I have to keep it locked away from my kids.