For the first time, this year's CEATEC in Tokyo dedicated one big hall to demo some electric vehicles, which include Nissan's autonomous Leaf and a couple of human transporters: Honda's UNI-CUB and Toyota's Winglet. While neither mobilizer is totally new, we just couldn't pass up this opportunity to give them a test drive, especially when they are still not yet street legal -- not even in Japan. The good news is we survived to tell the tale, so do read on to find out what it feels like to burn these tiny wheels at 6km/h.
Gallery: Honda UNI-CUB hands-on at CEATEC 2013 | 9 Photos
Let's start with the Honda UNI-CUB. Unlike the Segway-like transporters, this cute machine lets the user sit down and control it by leaning towards the desired traveling direction. Like its predecessor, the U3-X, the UNI-CUB can also travel sideways courtesy of its omni-directional driving wheel system, but when this author tried to make this move, sometimes it does a turn instead. Apart from that minor problem, we found Honda's solution to be very straightforward and potentially safer due to our lower center of gravity. Even when we stayed stationary, the UNI-CUB felt quite stable once we got used to the balancing posture, so we had no problem with getting on and off it, either. In case the passenger isn't able to guide the machine by him or herself, you can control it remotely using a smartphone. The sad news is Honda currently has no plan to bring this to the market, so this is still a concept for now.
Next up we have the Toyota Winglet, which looks more like a Segway but with some significant mechanical differences. For one, the former's combination of a steering stick and smaller wheels provide sharp turns, and you can even spin on the spot just for kicks. But compared to the UNI-CUB, we took much more time to master the controlling techniques on the Winglet, mainly because the vehicle is more sensitive to our posture as we have to stand on it. On the flip side, once we got used to it, we liked how we needed less effort to lean towards our desired direction, in comparison to the UNI-CUB.
It was also slightly awkward when hopping on and off the Winglet: the former is done by placing your foot on the right side of the platform, which consequently activates -- or not, as we experienced in some cases -- the balancing mechanism; whereas getting off it requires pushing a special button that leans you backwards to drop you off -- a slightly frightful experience in our first few goes. With Toyota starting to trial the Winglet in shopping malls and perhaps train stations, we're confident that the company will be able to fine tune the experience based on public feedback.
Ross Wang kindly provided camera support for this article.