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Toyota Testing Stand-Up-And-Ride Device

Fri, 08/01/2008 - 5:50am
Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer

TOKYO (AP) -- Japanese automaker Toyota showed a motorized stand-up-and-ride contraption on Friday that would help people scoot around at malls and airports.

But the "Winglet" -- so named for supposedly helping people move as though they had grown wings -- takes some getting used to.

At a test ride, a demonstrator accompanying a reporter trying it out refused to let go of the machine -- repeatedly expressing fears it may crash or get maneuvered incorrectly and cause injury.

The two-wheeler is similar to a Segway, except it's slower, going up to 6 kph (3.7 mph), about the same speed as pedestrians. Segway models can reach up to 20 kph (12.5 mph).

It stops easily with little pressure, pivots full-circle and has been developed to be safe in crowded areas, according to Toyota Motor Corp. It also goes smoothly over bumps on roads.

The machine is designed to respond almost intuitively -- moving forward when you lean to the front, and turning when you sway to the right or left, similar to skiing. One of three models shown comes with a protruding handle that can be grabbed and used like a steering wheel.

But Winglet has a long way to go before it can be a practical option for its intended audience of the elderly and others who find long-distance walking strenuous.

This reporter found it bit of a challenge to travel a short flat course at a Toyota showroom. The machine's movements were sometimes jerky because you weren't sure how to position your weight to control it.

More seasoned riders, like Toyota engineers, were zipping around as though the thing was a skateboard. They said anyone can get used to it with time, and it can be quite fun.

Toyota executive Takeshi Uchiyamada, who scooted on to the stage on the device, said no plans are set to sell the Winglet as a commercial product, and pricing is also not decided.

"We hope to use robotics not only for manufacturing but also for social welfare," he said.

Toyota said it will start testing Winglet later this year at a Japanese airport and resort complex and next year at a shopping mall to get public feedback. Overseas test plans are undecided.

The smallest version of Winglet, weighing 9.9 kilograms (22 pounds), can be folded up to be carried around in commuter trains or packed in car trunks, Toyota said.

Toyota envisions a future in which Winglet will be packed with wireless technology so it relays shopping information at stores. Or it may move on its own and go recharge its batteries or come pick you up when you beckon it, toting your luggage.

Toyota has previously shown human-shaped robots that play the violin and the trumpet. It has also shown an experimental single-seat vehicle that resembles a motorized wheelchair.

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