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The UNiMO continuous-track electric adventure wheelchair


November 13, 2013

The UNiMO Grace is a stylish Apple-esque armchair-on-wheels, while the Adventure model is designed for going places you cannot normally go in a wheelchair

The UNiMO Grace is a stylish Apple-esque armchair-on-wheels, while the Adventure model is designed for going places you cannot normally go in a wheelchair

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Japanese company Nano Optonics Energy displayed its caterpillar-tracked UNiMO (UNIque MObility) micro EV drive train at the International Robotics Exhibition in Tokyo last week, promising new levels of personal mobility for wheelchair users.

There are two models of the UNiMO: the US$18,000 Unimo Grace which is now available for purchase and the US$10,000 UNiMO Adventure which will be available by the end of this month (November 2013).

Even more importantly, the 400 W drivetrain designated E-001 is being made available to other manufacturers to create their own micro EVs.

The UNiMO Grace

The UNiMO Grace is a stylish armchair-on-wheels that looks like it comes directly from the drawing board of Sir Jony Ive, with clean minimalist Apple-esque lines and such digital niceties as a USB port for charging your smartphone.

Though it comes in black or white livery, the brushed aluminum model is so reminiscent of a MacBook Pro that it would not look out of place in an Apple Store. It will encounter zero resistance from the aesthetically-appreciative.

There are several other features which set the UNiMO apart from the competition. One is its seat which has a 30 degree power tilt-up function to assist the mobility handicapped to get into and out of the driving seat independently. It also has a lockable trunk.

The UNiMO Adventure

It's the Adventure model, which looks likely to generate the majority of retail sales for the company as it will sell for little more than half the price of the Grace, has an identical power-train and marginally better performance. Though the Grace is no misnomer, that elegance comes at a hefty premium.

The 85 kg Adventure model is only a few kilograms lighter than its stablemate, but without the designer panels to get scratched, and without restricted ground clearance due to the low skirts of the Grace, it will no doubt become a beloved workhorse for those outward-bound spirits who are restricted to wheelchairs.

Both models use the same 400 W powertrain and rubber caterpillar-style tracks and have the same top speed of 6 km/h (3.7 mph).

Both models have regenerative braking and use the same 15 Ah phosphate lithium ion battery for a range of approximately 20 km (12 mi) – it’s just the body that is different.

They can can climb kerbs, go through ditches, up slopes, traverse a 15 cm (6 in) gap, tackle open ground, lawn, snow, mud or even take you across the beach to the water's edge – almost all the places where you wouldn't go with a traditional wheelchair without a sizeable entourage.

The combination of robotics and electric power is about to bring a revolution to personal mobility on all fronts, but for the handicapped, it will offer a range of capabilities well beyond anything currently available, with perhaps the exception of the far-more-expensive, but much faster off-road EV known as the Zeisel.

While the UniMO Adventure can tackle all those relatively extreme environments, it's the machine's ability to tackle everyday mobility issues that will most endear it to users. Scenarios like getting on and off the train, steep gradients, cobblestone roads, travel in third-world countries, traversing public spaces that were created before wheelchair access were considered in the design, plus all those minor footpath irregularities which regular users don't see but wheelchair users most definitely do.

UNiMO's enabling tractor-type drivetrain has a length of 100 cm (39 in) with a width of 69.5 cm (27.4 in) and a turning radius of 60 cm (23.6 in). This means you can get into a narrow elevator and move around without knocking things over in stores or at the supermarket.

The UNiMO also has independent suspension, which is far more forgiving than the rock hard pneumatic tires of a regular wheelchair and the driving controls are simple and logical, and it can spin 180 degrees in its own footprint, so there's not much that a user will encounter that will bring proceedings to a halt.

Nano-Optonics Energy works closely with a number of Universities in Japan, many of them involved in deep level EV and robotics development, and as company spokesperson Takashi Tauchi phrased it, "we are deeply engaged in finding e-mobility solutions that are dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for the handicapped, disabled and elderly."

The UNiMO far surpasses the traditional power wheelchair, mobility scooter or power cart and is likely to create its own niche market. It's not hard to see celebrities and athletes in rehabilitation mode using something as stylish as the UNiMO, and similarly with people who would not normally consider a wheelchair – the independently wealthy elderly in our aging society f'rinstance, who might wish to get around with more manoeuvrability and less pain.

It's clear that there are many more micro EVs on the way from Nano-Optonics Energy and that the entire home energy eco-system is being considered.

One adjacent mobility solution currenty being developed into prototype form at Nano-Optonics Energy is the micro EV above.

When we began asking about transporting the UNiMO, we were told of a more all-encompassing EV system which incorporated the UNiMO and the ability to transport more than one at a time.

Normally such details of future technology and concept development would never be seen by a technology writer, but I saw enough to recognize that considerable thought and effort were being applied to future micro mobility solutions, and that the company is allocating considerable resources towards a broader product offering.

Nano Optonics Energy is keen to hear from any manufacturers wishing to incorporate its go-anywhere 400W E-001 drive-train in their own micro EVs.

Potential purchasers of either model will be able to order them directly from Nano Optonics Energy by the end of the month.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

Bill O'Reilly of FOX News has a program to furnish a similar tracked wheelchair to disabled veterans. He is collecting funds from concerned donors to provide these chairs to as many DAVs as possible.

I think this a terrific concept for anyone who is bound to a wheelchair and would still like to get out and enjoy nature.

I'm not sure what the tracks would do to your living room carpet when making tight turns so maybe you would have to tear out your carpet and put down hardwood. That's the price you pay for mobility.

I'm also not sure about the 400W motor in steep outdoor climbs, it seems a little light. I suppose I should do the math to see what incline it would climb with a 250 pound passenger at a reasonable speed. A multiple speed transmission would be nice.

Mr E

I've tested a few 4wd wheelchairs and yeah they chew up carpet and leave black marks on smooth floors. They also have a tendency to run over people's toes on trains etc and I can see those tracks tearing ladies' dresses off in confined areas. Judging by the ability of the 4wd ones to climb anything I'd say they will probably go up stairs.


I don't see it being able to climb a flight of stairs.


All that much extra cost just for a slightly better look from adding a body? About $500 worth of thermo-moulded plastic panels if that. Who runs their marketing section, Apple or Microsoft?

The Skud

@ nutcase It will climb one stair easily enough but the center of gravity looks wrong for going up a flight of stairs unless one is going backwards and then the track and wheels are configured wrong.


Just put a gun turret and machinegun pod onto it, we have a all-terrain mini-tank on rage. :D

Ta E
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