We’ve reported about the Toyota Winglet earlier this week but since then, I have been able to test-drive one of those cool personal electric vehicle, so here are my impressions: at a very high level, it’s like a Segway, which you may or may not have seen in the real world, but it’s fair to say that most people would naturally be inclined to draw that comparison. It’s the same idea, but the designs are quite different: the Winglet is smaller and would probably beat the Segway in terms in slalom and sharp turn, while Segway may be better for uneven surface and rougher environments.
Riding the Toyota Winglet is pretty easy, and when the instructor showed us, I realized that it was not very far from parallel skiing. Toyota even has a version without the handle for folks who feel confident enough to do that (I wasn’t, lol). The Winglet is powered-on when a plastic key is inserted, and when you’re done driving it, there’s a “stop” button that will slowly disengage the electric engine to let you get off gently.
Controlling it was quite easy, and it is about how you balance your body. Stand up straight and nothing happens, lean forward/backward and it will move in that direction. Lean left and right, and it will turn – as I said, it may look like parallel skiing from the outside and once you’re proficient, you can slalom in really tight spaces. I felt relatively in control after riding it for a few minutes, but I wasn’t ready to do tricks by the end of the 10mn trial.
Speed-wise, it goes a little slower than someone running, so it basically designed to replace your legs and be used on sidewalks rather than on the streets. At the moment, the device has not been approved for use in the streets/sidewalks of Japan, but we suspect that it will be used on private property in industrial complexes before that happens.
At the moment, I don’t see any kind of personal electric vehicle being used in a busy place like Akihabara or Shibuya (what about stairs etc?), but I could have definitely used one at trade shows like CEATEC or CES. It’s easy to say, but there are still too many practical considerations like parking, possible accidents or theft that aren’t solved. Beyond the needs of geeks like ourselves, the more important aspect of personal mobility is that it could help people who are either disabled or elderly (a big topic in Japan). In both cases, I tend to think that a “chair” design is more stable (like the Honda personal vehicle), but that’s just a matter of industrial design.