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Toyota begins testing Winglet on public roads

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July 24, 2013

Test subjects ride the Toyota Winglet personal mobility robot on public sidewalks and road...

Test subjects ride the Toyota Winglet personal mobility robot on public sidewalks and road crossings in Japan

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Toyota is taking to the public sidewalks of Japan with the Winglet, its two-wheeled personal mobility robot that looks like a miniature Segway. The trial, designed to test the Winglet's safety and practicality in the real world, takes place in Tsukuba city's Mobility Robot Experimental Zone, an area designated for just this type of thing. The move points to a possible commercialization of the robot in the future, which has been demonstrated only as a concept thus far.

The first phase of the test, which focuses on safety and compatibility with pedestrians and other traffic, begins today and will run through to March 2014. Some 80 test subjects from the local municipality and National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) will have access to eight Winglet Long Types. This model is designed for adults, though Toyota has also shown smaller versions for teenagers and children.

Those who sign up will be able to ride the robots on sidewalks on their commutes or while going out during their work day, and report on their experiences. It appears that they will adhere to road and traffic rules regulating bicycles and scooters. After that Toyota says it will assess the Winglet's overall functionality and convenience and whether or not a demand exists.

The Segway may not have ushered in a brave new world of personal mobility, but perhaps it targeted the wrong market. Toyota's Winglet, which shrinks the concept and adds a much needed stylistic overhaul, could find success in the more densely-populated urban centers of Japan if it makes the grade. It's just one of a handful of eco-minded concept vehicles currently in the works, alongside rival Honda's UNI-CUB, that are designed for short trips.

Toyota Winglet riders pass by a sign showing the area is part of Tsukuba city's Robot Expe...

Laws regulating the use of such vehicles will need to be broadened in Japan and elsewhere before such vehicles can really take off. But the rules don't seem to be stifling innovation, and if they encourage more thorough testing, the end user will benefit.

Meanwhile in China, a company called Robstep Robotics has developed its own Segway-like robot called the Robin-M1 that has a range of 20 km (12 miles), travels at up to 15 km/h (9.3 mph) and undercuts the competition with a retail price of around US$2,000. It's already being used on city streets.

And it's not alone. The Chegway by Beijing Fucheng Weijing Investment & Yantai Rijiang Electric, and the Windrunner by Uptech Robotics, are other Chinese contenders. Toyota may forfeit a potentially lucrative market if they remain idle for too long.

In the meantime, those of us who wouldn't mind a Winglet have plenty of time to save up for one, with the tests scheduled to end sometime in 2016.

If you've never seen someone tooling around on a Segway before, you may find the following video slightly more interesting than the rest of us. If anything, it shows The Jetsons' prediction of conveyor belt sidewalks of the future wasn't entirely off the mark.

Source: Toyota

About the Author
Jason Falconer Jason is a freelance writer based in central Canada with a background in computer graphics. He has written about hundreds of humanoid robots on his website Plastic Pals and is an avid gamer with an unsightly collection of retro consoles, cartridges, and controllers.   All articles by Jason Falconer
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8 Comments

Why are these being called robots, as opposed to "vehicles?" If these are robots, are all the cars and motorcycles on the road also robots?

SeekMocha
24th July, 2013 @ 07:25 am PDT

The Segway suffered from road authorities deeming it unfit to travel on public roads. Meanwhile, it was disallowed from travelling on footpaths because of the menace it represents to ordinary walkers. It really had nowhere else to go and thus was consigned to usage in private facilities such as airports, shopping malls, factories, zoos etc. This doomed it to commercial failure.

I can see nothing about this Japanese device that would yield a different result. You can't mix this toytown device with busy traffic, and it will be incompatible with busy foot traffic, just like the Segway.

Jenna Brownley
25th July, 2013 @ 06:13 am PDT

It has a more pleasing design than the Segway. It's smaller and lighter and portable, but It will also have similar limitations of use. Still, the main reason that the Segway and Winglet won't ever be successful is because they're BORING.

Keep it small. Make it cheaper, a little faster, and able to travel on bicycle lanes, while necessitating some skill and you'll have something eco-friendly, practical, affordable, challenging and cool---but most of all, FUN.

owlbeyou
25th July, 2013 @ 09:52 am PDT

The human arms have been already atrophied. Now it is the turn of the legs.

In the future we will have to ride in wheelchairs robots ...

Sergius
25th July, 2013 @ 10:11 am PDT

Jetsons, hell! Heinlein had rolling slidewalks down in 1940!

See "The Roads Must Roll".

In the same story, he also introduced Segway-like gyro stabilized personal vehicles.

On the other hand, I use Drafting Dan daily, but I'm still waiting for "Hired Girl"... (The Door Into Summer, 1956)

David Bell
25th July, 2013 @ 10:20 am PDT

@Jenna I don't think Segway is a commercial failure as much as just expensive. $5,000 is an issue for a lot of people that might otherwise consider one. I think some of the higher end Segways are upwards of $8,500.

Airport security can afford them but for Joe commuter there are mostly better options for the money.

Daishi
25th July, 2013 @ 10:48 am PDT

The provincial thinking above is what defeats the Segway and America's economy and innovation. Roads can fit bike paths, tri-cycles including motorized, cars, and the occasional senior scooter, but not segways?!

Stupid backward non-adaptive thinking. Worship of unthinking govt regulations - including omissions - is the defeat of our innovation and spin-off technologies (eg Segways climbing stairs for handicapped, seniors etc)

B Gold
25th July, 2013 @ 11:55 am PDT

I think they may have a fundamental flaw in their thinking here. I'm pretty sure it's easier to walk for an hour than stand still for an hour. Ever tried it? In the army you can see people falling over from standing still for too long in a platoon.

And it looks like these things move at a walking pace so you're not getting there any faster.

warren52nz
25th July, 2013 @ 04:44 pm PDT
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