How about commuting to work on an electric, self-balancing Unicycle?

By Jubin Mehta|19th Nov 2014
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The SBU Unicycle
The SBU Unicycle

If you're in Bangalore and happen to see a person riding a Unicycle around Richmond Town, you can be sure he is Freeman Murray. A US national, Freeman has been in India for almost a decade and has done a bunch of cool things both here and in the US. He is well-known in the city for setting up Jaaga, which works towards solving urban issues using creative solutions.

Let’s shift the frame to Himachal Pradesh for a moment. Freeman had brought his Unicycle with him to Hillhacks, an event that was kicked off in Dharamsala this year. Three young hardware enthusiasts, Alex Vazhatharayil, Numaan Ashraf and Siddardha Garimella were impressed by the electric Unicycle and how Freeman was manoeuvring it. (Disclaimer: I am one of the co-founders of the HackerSpace in Dharamsala which organizes Hillhacks). They got talking and this is where a very interesting project picked up steam.

Back in Bangalore, Alex and co drew up a plan to initiate a community of hardware lovers whose first project would be building an electric self-balancing Unicycle (we earlier wrote about Alex with their product Tangle). The trio have come together and started Makeystreet, which is focused on hardware, and is satisfying the needs of a hardware developer.

Now, Unicycles!

Unicycle, as the name suggests, is a one-wheel cycle which you're most likely to see in a circus. But with changing times and the advent of technology, there is a growing segment of people looking at Unicycles in an entirely new light. If done right, Unicycles can actually become a viable means of transportation for urban commuters. According to Freeman, Inventist is probably the first company to build the electric self-balancing Unicycle (the rider still needs to balance sideways).

Inventist was founded in 2003 by Shane Chen in the small town of Camas, Washington, with a goal to provide a variety of new and interesting products that are fun, exciting and different. The Unicycle is named, Solowheel, which is described as --

The SOLOWHEEL is the smallest, greenest, and most convenient "People Mover" ever invented. This gyro-stabilized electric unicycle is compact and fun to ride and is intended to be used as you would use an electric bicycle.  

Specs:

  • Speed - upto 16 kph (upto 50kph will soon be available)
  • Range - approx 16 km
  • Weight - 11 kg
  • Maximum Load - 99 kg
  • Motor Power - 1500 Watts

A growing trend and new possibilities

There are many other manufacturers globally, and the trend has really picked up in China. Lot of people are using it and some have even taken up extreme sports on these electric Unicycles. In the UK, they are piloting a project to see if postmen can use these!

If you look across Amazon and Alibaba, etc., the prices will range from $300-$500. There are higher end ones too. A regular pedal Unicycle costs around $30. However, the price for the electric Unicycle is in a grey area, but the entire product line has an interesting future roadmap.

To experiment with this possibility, Makeystreet is leading an open source project which intends to build a prototype and have it ready by January. I was a part of the first meetup on Saturday at Jaaga and the development is going to begin this week. (fill in this form if you'd like to be associated with the campign). Here are the slides from the meetup:

There are no obvious big ambitions with this particular project, but if one dares to think out of the box, one can very well see delivery boys on these Unicycles, office goers commuting short distances, adventure sports, and lots more!

What do you think of Unicycle as a 'person mover'? Join in if you feel the possibilities excite you.