Honda floats new form of personal transport

TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. unveiled its latest electric vehicle Tuesday, but it is unlike any of the cars and motorcycles the company is best known for.

Rather, the UNI-CUB single-seat, unicycle-like vehicle looks something like a vacuum cleaner with a bicycle saddle mounted on top. Indeed, viewed from the side, its black-and-white color scheme makes it look strikingly like a penguin.

Honda's new personal mobility device is guided by a small wheel that protrudes from the back. It is intended to be used to get around the inside of large buildings like airports and museums. It was developed based on Honda's earlier robotic personal transport device, the U3-X, which was unveiled three years ago.

On the UNI-CUB, riders move backward and forward, side-to-side or diagonally at a top speed of 3.7 mph (6kph) just by shifting their weight. It is latest product of the robotic technologies Honda has been developing, the most recognizable example of which is probably the ASIMO humanoid robot, which appeared in 2000.

Honda plans to sell the UNI-CUB on a commercial basis. As a step toward this, it will begin testing it in cooperation with Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

Asked about his impressions of riding the UNI-CUB, the museum's director, Mamoru Mohri -- a former astronaut with NASA's space shuttle program -- described it as "floaty," and "like being in zero-gravity."