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Uno motorcycle reconfigures itself on the fly

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October 25, 2010

Inventor Ben Gulak with two Uno prototypes

Inventor Ben Gulak with two Uno prototypes

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Bombardier's concept for a one-wheeled self-balancing motorcycle-like vehicle called the EMBRIO has been a long time Gizmag favorite. It was envisioned as the type of personal transportation that people might be using 20 years from now. Well, if 21 year-old inventor Ben Gulak has his way, consumers will be able to buy a similar vehicle a lot sooner. His battery electric Uno may look like a regular motorbike at higher speeds, but when it slows down, the wheels realign themselves into a side-by-side configuration – seen in profile, it looks like a unicycle.

The Uno transforms from a unicycle to a motorcycle

Gulak, a Canadian who is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at Harvard, is also the brains behind the stand-up tracked off-road vehicle, the DTV Shredder. Unlike the Shredder, however, the Uno was inspired by a desire to save the environment.

In 2005, Gulak accompanied his father on a business trip to China. There, he saw the huge number of smoky, combustion-engined two-stroke scooters and motorcycles that were on the road. He wanted to create an electric alternative to those vehicles, but knew that it would have to be something pretty special in order to make a name for itself. He proceeded to build his first prototype out of angle iron, wheelchair motors, batteries and gyroscopes, and is now working on commercializing the vehicle through his Massachusetts-based company, BPG Motors.

The Uno transforms from a unicycle to a motorcycle

“Because we’re such a visual society, I wanted something that was really going to stand out and show people that being green can be cool,” he told us. “When I was in China [...] one of the things that seemed to be a problem was the congestion, so I thought if we could make a really small vehicle that could weave through traffic – it had to be the same power and abilities as the larger ones – that would make a lot of sense.”

“I wanted something that you could bring indoors, and charge in your apartment. Right now with electric scooters, one of the problems is that there’s nowhere to charge them, and they get vandalized on the road.”

Not unlike a Segway, the Uno uses gyroscopes to maintain balance at lower speeds – a rear kickstand supports the vehicle when it’s parked. At higher speeds, as it’s moving, the wheels realign themselves into a more traditional, one-behind-the-other motorcycle configuration. This is to provide stability, and to make the handling less twitchy. When we first featured the Uno a couple of years ago, it had two wheels. The version that Gulak is now working on, however, has three. When it hits 15mph (24km/h), the middle wheel moves to the front, while the outer two move to the back and squeeze together.

The latest Uno prototype (which has three wheels) in motorcycle and Uno modes

So, how does it feel to have your wheels rearrange themselves on the fly? “It happens in about one second, it’s a very quick transformation” said Gulak. “We’re still in the debugging stages right now, so I’m not going to say it’s not scary – it’s pretty terrifying, but it’s going to be good... It’s just a matter of time until we get it perfected.”

Unlike the Segway, which was kept under wraps until it was revealed to a rather baffled public, Gulak is constantly seeking public feedback on the Uno, to make sure that it’s something people will want to buy. That feedback has found its way into the vehicle’s current design.

The Uno transforms from a unicycle to a motorcycle

“If you try to sell people on the idea of a self-balancing electric unicycle, [then] that just screams ‘far out there,’ but I think by keeping visual references to things that are familiar, people see it more as an evolution or the next step, as opposed to something that’s just completely out of the blue,” he explained.

Gulak hopes to produce an initial run of 30 bikes, within the next 8 to 12 months. They will be limited to a top speed of 35mph (56km/h) because of liability issues, and will be priced for enthusiasts at around US$25,000. As production picks up, the top speed will hopefully increase, while the price should drop to around US$6,500.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away.   All articles by Ben Coxworth
10 Comments

young Mr Ben Gulak has come up with 2 new ideas which seem at first glance to be silly,then after studying his work I realised he may have something hot. I wait with interest

robinyatesuk2003
26th October, 2010 @ 06:33 am PDT

Awesome work keep it up! :)

Benjamin Harrison Felts
26th October, 2010 @ 10:53 am PDT

Very inventive...if not commercially successful unto itself, hopefully his licensed patents might bring him a sizable income.

Matt Rings
26th October, 2010 @ 06:51 pm PDT

This is brilliant - but I still cannot reconcile the emergency stop, with the one wheel idea.

That fabulous ratio - of the transference of mass onto the front wheel - and it's contact patch, at an effective ratio of distance out the FRONT of the bike, and the height of the center of gravity.

That ratio between face plant, as the bike tips over the front wheel, and wheel slide and the wheel slides rather than bites in.

I don't give a shit how marvelous this design is over all, a single wheel is all face plant - in a rock hard emergency stop.

While some people may go "Ohhhh ahhhhh - it's only going 24Kmh (15mph)", well 24Kmh plus the drop from the face plant - is plenty enough to snap your neck.

Mr Stiffy
26th October, 2010 @ 10:49 pm PDT

is Ben in Harvard or MIT. i am confused.

mook73
27th October, 2010 @ 01:38 am PDT

I wonder how much of the battery is used on the servos that must pull the wheels back and forth everytime you exceed 15. Seems like they would have to be pretty strong motors to do what they do and be quite a drag on the available current.

DmanEfest
28th October, 2010 @ 02:15 pm PDT

would love to try it. Need something new to play with

Frank Bolte
28th October, 2010 @ 08:55 pm PDT

They have moved on some more, see their web page with video

of underway transition from two to 3 wheels, & with rear wheels closer.

http://bpg-motors.com/products/uno3/

Dave B13
25th January, 2011 @ 03:18 pm PST

Kind of a dumb idea. Instead of folding up at load speeds - an invitation to a hard face plant - it should just fold up for storage, governed to a walking speed as a walk-behind rather than as something one rides. Besides, when riding in single axle configuration you'd look like something Photoshopped by an idiot.

Mike Whitfield
14th November, 2011 @ 02:46 pm PST

I'm not worried about face plant... Ever ride a SegWay? It looks like your feet would come forward off the pegs and you'd land on your feet. And looking at the nose cone of this thing... it doesn't look too bashed up.

Matthew Bailey
2nd August, 2013 @ 09:43 am PDT
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