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Honda thinks the future of VR is cruising around on this glorified electric unicycle


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Honda will soon demonstrate what it thinks is the future of Virtual and Augmented Reality entertainment, with its XR Mobility Experience bound for the SXSW Creative Industries Expo in March.

The system features Honda's unique Uni-One personal mobility device, which is an engineering and robotics mash-up of a Segway, electric wheelchair and futuristic mobility vehicle. This can raise and lower the user to let them interact with others at eye-level, as opposed to the permanently seated position of a traditional wheelchair.

That said, the SXSW concept is very much about "highly immersive digital entertainment," according to Honda, as it combines the Uni-One with an unnamed VR headset, allowing users to "experience the peaceful feeling of floating in the sky or the exhilarating feeling of gliding along a half-pipe path,"  the Japanese company claims.

Honda is keeping its remit broad with the Uni-One, which is an update of the original Uni-Cub concept of 2012. It is being offered as an advanced solution for those with a disability or mobility issues, but Honda also claims that it is perfectly capable of acting as a more generic mode of transport and an entertainment device.

You can steer the Uni-One by shifting your body weight while in the 'standing position', keeping both hands free for other tasks and offering a more upright, natural walking experience. Honda says two-wheel drive and "advanced control technology" prevent the device from tipping over, while a joystick is also implemented for operating the unit when in a seated position.

There's scant detail on the AR experience on offer at SXSW, but Honda says it envisions Uni-One being used in indoor and obstacle-free spaces, such as theme parks and shopping malls, where they are able to race one another (albeit at a max speed of 3.7mph) or explore virtual worlds while keeping hands free for action.

"With the Honda XR Mobility Experience, we are expanding the joy and freedom of personal mobility into entertainment applications," said Hirokazu Hara, vice president of New Business Development, American Honda Motor Company.

"By combining the unique, physical experience of riding the Honda Uni-One with highly immersive digital entertainment, Honda is creating a brand new multimodal experience that takes extended reality technologies to the next level.”

Honda has carefully selected the SXSW Creative Industries Expo because it wants to connect and collaborate with AR and VR developers to create "custom digital experiences choreographed with the movements of riding Uni-One".

A break from reality

Honda Uni-One XR Mobility Experience

(Image credit: Honda)

Honda has a long and illustrious history that is filled with engineering experimentation, whether that is the cute Asimo robot or its Riding Assist self-balancing motorcycle. 

Much of it tends to be a glorified design study, where aspects of the demonstrator eventually make their way into a production model, while others, such as the robotic lawnmower, actually go on sale.

But it appears that Honda is serious about the entertainment application of its Uni-One personal mobility device, which could broaden its appeal and provide a more solid business case to put it into production. 

While it likely won't revolutionize the VR experience, it may well allow Honda to produce the units in greater number and therefore offer them to individuals with genuine mobility issues, potentially transforming the lives of some.

That said, hopefully Honda isn't suggesting we all need a Uni-One in our daily lives. Surely, someone in the company has seen Wall-E and what happens to the human race when technology like this takes over? 

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