Winglet, the Next Generation Segway

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It's called a standup mover, a compact motorized transporter, and a partner robot. And that's just in the first couple of paragraphs of the press release. It's also been called a vertical mechanized scooter. What it is, is something like a Segway. Toyota has developed the Winglet through its Sony Robotics subsidiary. Competition for the Segway? Is that necessary?

There are some differences in the two machines. The Winglet is more compact and weighs less than a Segway. Two of the three Winglet models are hands-free, meaning you can carry things while using it. The "joystick" is between the knees -you don't even want to think about falling on it. The Segway can go over 12 miles per hour, while the Winglet plods along at under four miles per hour, so it's not going to save you time over walking.

But lets backtrack. The Segway is not setting sales records because no one is sure of its purpose.  It's too big and fast for busy sidewalks. It isn't big enough or fast enough for street use. It has no advantages over a wheelchair for the disabled, and the bulk of the equipment isn't worth the bit of extra speed for most pedestrians. And where do you park it?

Toyota indicated that the Winglet is targeted to the elderly, and will be tested in airports. From what I've seen in airports, elderly people do just fine being driven to their gates in golf carts. They won't want to give that up. Besides, standing up and shifting your weight around on your feet is already like walking. Yes, some elderly folks walk far slower than four miles an hour, but that's usually because of a declining sense of balance, which the Winglet requires.

But I'm not writing off the Winglet just yet. It looks like fun -sort of like a skateboard or rollerblades. It might catch on as recreational equipment. Only time will tell.

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August 4, 2008 - 2:31am
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