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Version 2.0 of Focus Designs Self Balancing Unicycle now ready for primetime


January 26, 2012

Focus Designs Self Balancing Unicycle

Focus Designs Self Balancing Unicycle

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Two things are certain in this crazy world - unicycles are cool and unicycles are seriously hard to ride. Well no longer. Now anybody can clown about on a unicycle and what's more, you don't even have to pedal. Thanks to Focus Designs and several years of development the learning curve required to master the unicycle has been reduced from several weeks to an average of 20 minutes, making it a viable and incredibly cheap-to-run personal transport.

Most people can learn to ride a bike without much problem. Humans are adept at balancing laterally left to right and the gyroscopic effect of the wheels makes it easy to stay up once on the move. Remove one of the wheels to make it a unicycle and the tendency to topple backwards or forwards around the single axle is almost impossible to avoid. Seasoned unicyclists manage it by using the directly connected pedals to constantly adjusting the wheel backwards and forwards underneath them.

Focus designs have done away with all that in the Self Balancing Unicycle (SBU) by utilizing the principles - though not the implementation of course - of the Segway personal transport. Seven sensors, gyros, accelerometers etc., monitor the orientation of the unicycle and via a processor, and a bunch of clever algorithms, a hub-mounted motor either speeds up or down to maintain axial forwards/backwards balance. Just like the Segway you lean slightly forward to go forward and back to brake. Unlike the Segway however, accidents are much less likely since you can just quickly put your feet down to stop! The other advantage over a Segway is that you don't look like a dork.

The 1000 watt motor is driven by an advanced lithium-iron nano-phosphate battery that provides a top speed of 10 mph (16 km/h) for a range of 12 miles (20 km). The estimated average cost of a recharge, which takes two hours, is 2 US cents and the SBU weighs 29 lbs (13 kg), which makes it luggable onto public transport and into car trunks. For those that know the area it will come as no surprise that the SBU was developed in Camas, just across the way from Portland, home of all things alternative, green and lovely.

The latest and greatest 2.0 version of the Self Balancing Unicycle is now available direct from Focus Designs for $1,499 (€1144 - £1000) and if you still aren't quite getting how it works see the video below.

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog. All articles by Vincent Rice

How does it cope at low speed, say 2 to 4mph? In busy traffic, or pedestrianised areas, it\'d need to be able to travel slowly and it doesn\'t look to have the ability to balance at crawling speeds. Sorry, but can\'t see these unicycle things being anything other than fun toys.


GBP1000 for a unicycle! Just because its got some fancy electronics in it doesn't make it worth that much.

It bugs me very time is see things like this. First thought "Oh cool, this could get people out of cars for those short journeys", Second thought "HOW MUCH!" Most people who make things like this are just in it for the quick cash from people who want a new toy to play with on the weekend. Completly useless in terms of real practical wide spread use.

I want something to come along like this and make a statement, not a joke.

Andrew Knowles

As an owner of the previous iteration (v1) of the SBU and current owner of the SBU v2, I can attest to the practicality and ease of learning this vehicle. JPAR asks about slow paced riding. I enjoy the challenge to approach a pedestrian from behind and maintain pace and balance without being detected. It is quite easy to accomplish. Even if it\'s necessary to slow below balance speed, it\'s a simple matter to \"dab\" a foot or place it on the ground until one can build up speed. The slowest I can travel is 2 mph, which is about half walking speed.

Combined with a bus pass, the 12 mile range allows for great versatility. I\'ve only just returned from a trip to the local grocery store (2.5 mi round trip) and have traveled 10 miles in a single day running errands.

No previous unicycling skills are needed. The feeling of control when operating an SBU has to be experienced to be fully understood, but it\'s a total blast. One of my visitors tried it and it took him 20 minutes to reach a comfortable level of skill.

Get the air-cushion seat, though as no one will tell you that a unicycle seat is comfortable.


I love in the video at 1:20 watching the people on their superior two-wheeled apparati whizzing by the unicycle, what would those be called, bicycles? Sometimes it seems that \"innovation\" is a step back...


Why is it when something really unique and practical comes along, the nay-sayers are the first to \"PILE ON!!\"

This product obviously can provide quick transportation for college campuses, downtown businessmen, workers in large plants, etc., in adition to the fun aspect.

Short sighted individuals will poo-poo this amazing contraption, but in reality it is a BIG step over the Segway, and comes at a price that makes it available to the masses.


I like it. It\'s no faster than the bicycles that woosh down my road doing time trials. The speed limit on my road is 25mph. In fact, it\'s slower and therefore easier for cars to get \'round. Hey, the future is here every day. K


You could mod a pushbike for a fraction of the price and not get gorped at !!

Steve Rock

It\'s well documented by now that the gyroscopic effect of wheels plays no role in keeping a bicycle upright. The only time the effect comes into play is in riding no handed, where it is used to steer, but still does not keep the bike upright--that is due to the caster effect.


You\'re going to put yourself out in the middle of harms way, helmet?


No doubt the same type of comments were made when the first bicycles were introduced, and they didn\'t even have peddles. If you don\'t like it don\'t buy one ... just don\'t be a hipocrite(?) No one is forcing it upon you.

Mark Evans.

Small wheels can be added, forward and back, range and speed can be increased in future models. This is just the beginning.

Dawar Saify

Looks fun, but not 1500 bucks + tax worth of fun. Now a peddle unicycle would be something that would be worth learning to do. Anyways, the tire on this SBU would be dirty and 30 lbs is probably more than twice what it ideally should weight. My Klein weighs way less than that thing. You\'d have to take it in with you since that sucker would get stolen in a heart beat. I\'m not typically a naysayer but this SBU is nothing but a gimmick and I\'ll probably never see one on the sidewalk ever. People need to exercise, not find more ways to avoid it.


\"Why is it when something really unique and practical comes along, the nay-sayers are the first to \"PILE ON!!\"\"

Explain how this is practical. Even if it were much cheaper, like $300, still not. No one would buy this. Maybe some tech company with money to burn for their execs to ride around the office compound in. I would like to see some video of the user having to make a hard stop or a sharp turn.

\"Short sighted individuals will poo-poo this amazing contraption, but in reality it is a BIG step over the Segway...\"

The Segway can go down stairs and stop very quickly without the rider flying forward.


Given the force of forwards momentum and sudden or forced stops - and the numbers of cheap and available inline bicycles Unicycles will always be a niche novelty of very low practicality.

However - kudos on the inventiveness!


The riders in the video don\'t look very comfortable. Their arms are dangling, held away from the body to assist balance - not a natural position at all. I can\'t imagine carrying anything, even a briefcase. I doubt that the seat is comfortable for very long, either. Unlike bicycles, you\'re not supporting part of your weight on your hands or on pedals. You\'re just begging for compression of the Alcock\'s canal, which has been implicated in numbness and even impotence for bicycle riders. Practical? Electric, strap-on inline skates or skateboard would be more practical than this. Even small electric scooters would be far more practical, yet if one looks at that market, those haven\'t made a dent after more than a decade. The Xootr eX3 is long since history. The Goped and Go Motorboard electric scooters have a very small niche. Face it, this is a very expensive toy.

Oh, and people who say this is a big step over a Segway? Many jurisdictions have made riding Segways on sidewalks illegal, including New York City, Boston, Colorado and even normally progressive San Francisco, and the SBU would be subject to those same laws. Do you really want to ride in traffic on this thing? Especially since it clearly doesn\'t fit under electric bicycle laws (no pedal drive, too few wheels), so it would probably need some kind of license and registration.


Ya, I like it but a few small upgrades would be nice: The foot-pegs need an upgrade to something non-slip and unlikely to sag over time (maybe a slight upward angle). The battery pack needs to be upgradable or quick-change (an extra in the backpack should do it).

Also, there should also be a way to double a passenger on this thing, just for the pure laughability of that feat. Maybe a longer seat


Full current for 2hrs from a wall socket will cost you 50cents, not 2cents. It probably doesn\'t take the full current though, but I can guarantee that your charger is not a mere 100mah either (which would cost 2 cents).

I expect this is simply a \"typo\" - it should have read 20cents, not 2cents. that\'s a sensible likely amount.

Just my $.02 worth :-)


Why does everything have to be cheap and completely practical? This is cool and can find its own niche. Anyway, weren\'t full suspension mtb\'s without a motor or electronics over $5k when they first hit stores?


Motor look familiar, is that a golden motor magic pie?


Why not go with a "trainer" concept - straps onto any unicycle and helps you balance, slowly turns control over to you as you prove able to do it.

After a few days of practice, a green light comes on indicating that they've learned it and are doing all the balancing themselves. Take off the trainer, practice a bit more to get used to the change in weight and balance, and off you go.

Might make unicycles a lot more popular, so manufacturers could consider renting out the trainer cheaply, eliminating the cost issue.

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