A unicycle from the future; that’s what comes to mind when you look at Honda’s sleek U3-X prototype. The world’s first omni-directional driving wheel system allows the rider to move in any direction by adjusting his or her body weight.
The secret is balance control technology. An extremely responsive incline sensor detects the shifting of a rider’s weight, automatically predicting and inferring directional and speed intentions while adjusting itself accordingly. The Honda Omni Traction Drive System—or HOT Drive System for short—allows for effortless forward, backward, side-to-side, and diagonal movement. One large-diameter wheel connects to many smaller motor-controlled wheels, which allows for a wide range of motion in a compact size.
According to Alicia Jones, a corporate communications supervisor for Honda, it’s this new wheel structure that makes the project truly unique. “[It] enables movement that is not an option with conventional mobility,” she said. Jones imagines future wheelchairs with HOT Drive Systems that could further expand mobility for the disabled.
The U3-X measures just 25.6 x 12.4 x 6.3 inches and weighs less than 22 pounds. The footrests and seat fold into the unit, which runs on an environmentally friendly lithium-ion battery for about an hour of continuous use.
Honda engineers are currently in the research and development stage for this concept, and there are no concrete plans for the device’s commercialization.