The star of indie rock band OK Go’s latest music video—now approaching 14 million YouTube views—is a small, curious-looking vehicle. The Honda Uni-Cub, currently under development in Japan, is a “personal mobility device” the company hopes will someday be a common sight in settings as wide-ranging as airports and libraries. OK Go simply calls it “the future chair.”
This week, Honda invited me to its campus in the Tokyo suburbs to try the Uni-Cub “beta” version and learn more about the project from Shinichiro Kobashi, chief engineer for Honda’s smart mobility development division. But mostly, I wanted to ride the Uni-Cub. And after a short tutorial on the proper way to sit on it and how to navigate, I was off.
The big idea: The Uni-Cub is designed to be used hands-free in a way that makes it comfortable to be around other people—unlike, say, a Segway. Imagine a scenario like a child walking around a shopping mall next to her grandmother, who’s riding a Uni-Cub. Or a group of school kids zipping around a museum on Uni-Cubs, so they don’t get tired.
With that in mind, the Uni-Cub is surprisingly easy to maneuver and really fun to ride around. You simply lean forward to go forward, upright to slow down or stop, and sideways to turn or move diagonally, aided by a clever mechanical system. With your feet on footrests and a comfortable seat, it doesn’t feel that strange. I’m not sure I’d want one at home, but if I worked in a large office—attention, future Apple “spaceship” campus inhabitants—I’d probably love one.
The Uni-Cub is not very fast, as it’s designed to replicate walking, not riding a bicycle. Both my animation and the OK Go video—where the band scoots around a room, spins on a patio, and is surrounded by more than 2,000 schoolgirl-esque dancers for an incredible, synchronized umbrella performance—have been sped up. My ability to move around was limited by my fear of running the Uni-Cub into the walls of the conference room we were in, so I kept things slow. But if I spent ten more minutes zooming around, I think I could ride it confidently in a crowd.
It will be a while before you can buy a Uni-Cub of your own. Honda doesn’t have a commercial launch date set, but it is possible for guests to rent them to ride around at Tokyo’s Miraikan science museum. However, it seems likely that they’ll become commercially available before Tokyo hosts the Olympics in 2020. In the meantime, feast your eyes (again) on the amazing OK Go video.