Was the Segway ahead of its time, or just an overhyped product that could have never lived up to the anticipation? Being pricier than a used car didn’t help the original Segway’s chances, but at least now, electrical engineer Olaf Winkler has solved that problem with a ball-based self-balancing scooter that features a thousand dollar price tag.
While the Segway balances riders on a pair of large wheels, Winkler’s Üo uses what looks like a soccer or basketball, but it’s actually a solid sphere of rubber that can support a rider’s weight without deforming. To maintain balance, and to propel the Üo in any direction, three motors spin that giant rubber ball using a trio of specially-designed wheels that can rotate in multiple directions.
It means the Üo is more complicated than the Segway in terms of its hardware, with more areas where it can fail, but the unique design also potentially makes it safer. Because the ball can move in any direction, the Üo can ensure it always remains directly below the rider’s center of gravity, making it hard to fall over — assuming the software powering the self-balancing mechanics is working as it should.
Using a small joystick at the end of a long handle, the Üo rider can also be spun 360-degrees without the ball moving, making it more manoeuvrable than the Segway, and easier to navigate crowded areas without bumping into pedestrians.
Winkler has been working on the Üo since 2010 and has finally made his creation available to anyone who loved the idea of the Segway, but couldn’t afford the steep price tag. However, you’ll still need to cough up a little north of $US1,300 ($1,718) to contribute to Winkler’s Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign in order to secure one. That’s considerably more expensive than a self-balancing hoverboard, but there seems to be less risk here of you ending up on YouTube after a nasty fall.
As with any Kickstarter campaign, there’s always the risk of a product not coming to fruition, or unseen problems delaying its delivery. That’s especially important to remember in this case, given the creators of the original Segway had millions of dollars to develop and perfect it, and the product is still considered a failure. Winkler left his job to pursue his dream of building the Üo, which is risky, but maybe by his efforts Will Arnett’s automotive of choice will finally get its moment in the spotlight.