I have nothing against people who enjoy riding Segways. But after riding a Solowheel last week at CES (short video below), I now look at those people the same way I looked at Big Wheels riders once I'd moved on to riding a bicycle.
Unlike the Segway, the Solowheel only has a single wheel - and nothing to hold onto. (A note to the kids: Even though you're hands-free, please don't text while Solowheeling.) Yet like the Segway, Solowheel's gyroscopic sensors allow for turning, acceleration and deceleration, moving forwards and backwards. And just as with a hybrid car, it recaptures energy when slowing down or going downhill.
Also similar to a Segway, on a full charge, Solowheel's custom 39V lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery and 1kW motor can take you 15 to 20 miles at up to 10 MPH. Two big differences between the vehicles are price and size. A new Solowheel costs about a fourth to a third as much as a new Segway. And where Segway folds to fit in your trunk, the 26-pound Solowheel folds to the size of a barstool seat, much more portable.
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It might be tough to tell from the skill and finesse displayed in the video below, but riding Solowheel does take some practice. The most difficult part is getting on. First timers tend to anchor one ankle against the center pad, hold onto a wall, turn on the device while anchoring the second ankle, then quickly stand up. The more advanced version starts with one leg anchored, gives a skateboard-like pump to get going and anchors the second leg on the roll.
My demo unit had training wheels, which made it forgiving when going straight, but tough to turn. The trick to balancing is standing up as straight as possible. Unlike a unicycle, the middle of your body really shouldn't enter into the equation. Unless you want to quickly dismount as if the rug were pulled out from under you...
This article is part of our ongoing coverage of this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Find more CES articles here.