With advancements in technology, we’ve witnessed some pretty impressive micromobility vehicles in the past several years. Companies competing for better and smarter designs are continually trying to develop new ideas for innovative products, among them, an electric unicycle. Let’s learn more about this vehicle.
An electric unicycle is a self-balancing vehicle with a single wheel that is powered by an electric motor. It is considered as a personal transporter because it can usually accommodate a single rider. It is operated much like the Segway in which the movements of the rider essentially control the speed and direction of the wheel. Leaning forward or backward will move or slow down the device. It can run up to 20 mph (32 km/h). Tilting your weight to the left or right using your feet will turn it in the same direction much like steering a skateboard. Meanwhile, the self-balancing process within the device utilizes Gyroscopes and accelerometers.
There are many variations of the electric unicycle in terms of the frame. The most typical is comprised of a single wheel that contained the electric motor, rechargeable battery, gyroscopes and other electronic parts at the center. It also has two flat pedals at the opposite sides of the wheel upon which the rider’s feet are rested. Some e-unicycles have built-in saddle or seat that allows that rider to sit. Still, others include handling bars so that the rider has something to hold on to while riding.
Whereas manual unicycles were primarily used for performing in circuses and festivals or just a hobby, the introduction of electric unicycles has provided people with portable urban transportation that can help people navigate their way through streets and traffic with speed and without much physical effort.
History of the Electric Unicycle
The history of electric unicycle is a bit tricky because the equipment may have evolved from different types of vehicles. As a unicycle that is powered by an electric motor, the single-wheeled ‘velocipedes’ by Frederick Myers is arguably considered as the prototype of the e-unicycle except that of its predecessor is essentially powered manually by pedaling with your feet much like a bicycle.
Another vehicle believed to have been a precursor of the e-unicycle is the monowheel. A monowheel or monocycle is another vehicle with a single track wheel except that the rider either sits inside or beside the wheel. Electric unicycles may have evolved from monowheels because this single-wheeled transportation was primarily conceptualized to balance itself using a single wheel. In which case, Richard C. Hemming’s Flying Yankee Velocipede which was introduced in 1869 is deemed as its original predecessor. The monowheel is also the first single-wheeled transportation which is powered by electricity. The Dynasphere in 1932 is the first electric-powered vehicle that has a single wheel. As noted earlier, however, both the unicycle and monowheel are essentially invented for fun and entertainment instead of as a serious means of transport.
Finally, a more recent technology, the Segway is believed to have inspired the invention of electric unicycles. The Segway has been patented in as early as 1994 but only became commercially available in 2001. The Segway is considered the precursor of the electric unicycle because the latter essentially uses the same technology as the former. The only difference is the Segway has two wheels while the electric unicycle has a single wheel. Subsequently, the electric unicycle operates similarly as that with the Segway.
In short, the electric unicycle is a unicycle that has been powered by electricity, a monowheel that electronically balances itself or a Segway with a single wheel. In any which way you see where and how it evolved, the modern electric unicycle is now designed and intended to function as a personal urban transporter that can be used for commuting to and from work instead of merely as equipment for circus acts, hobby or sports. Modern electric unicycles are made more portable, easy and fast charging, safer, faster, and easy to ride to make it a viable personal transport for modern urban commuters.
How does an Electric Unicycle work?
The electric unicycle contains a very simple mechanism consisted of an electric motor that is connected to the rim, rechargeable battery, a motherboard and gyroscopes, and an accelerometer. Like many other electric vehicles, the device is ultimately propelled by an electric motor that is powered by a rechargeable battery. However, instead of pressing a remote control like electric skateboards or pulling the throttle like electric scooters, the rider’s body movements are what triggers acceleration, deceleration, and direction of the electric uni wheel. The motherboard ultimately determines the inclination angle of the body and commands the rotor to spin forward or backward. Leaning forward is read by the motherboard as a command to move forward or accelerate and so on. Any change in the riders’ body movement would be detected and result in controlling the speed and velocity of the vehicle. Incidentally, leaning backward or shifting bodyweight back will slow down the vehicle.
Self-balancing in the electric unicycle is achieved with the use of gyroscopes and accelerometers. The gyroscope is a rotating disc in which rotation axis is permitted to take any orientation by itself and is not affected by tilting or rotation. It calculates and sustains positioning and angular speed. The rotor will continue its rotational axis direction irrespective of the positioning of the outer wheel. The accelerometer, on the other hand, regulates acceleration or speed with a change of direction. Thus, it automatically slows down the rotor spin when turning to different directions. During a free fall, the accelerator will mechanically slow down the device to prevent the vehicle from going faster and faster because of the pull of gravity.
As an electric vehicle, the built-in brake system of the electric unicycle follows regenerative braking. This means that the brake is achieved by spinning the rotors of the motor backward to counter the forward movement. When the brake is applied, the backward rotation of the rotor also generates electricity which is fed back or charges the battery.
How do I get on Electric Unicycles?
Persistent Practice – If you are interested to get into electric unicycles, you need to commit to practicing. Driving or riding the vehicle is a little tricky considering that the force to regulate speed and change direction falls into a single wheel. Steering is therefore relatively challenging. However, if you can persistently practice regularly for a few hours, you can get the hang of it in two weeks or less.
Balancing Skills – While the electric unicycle is self-balancing, you still need to learn to balance yourself while riding it. Any movement of your body from stooping, bending your knee, leaning backward, forward and sidewards will command the unicycle to move. You should, therefore, have strong balancing skills to control the equipment.
Safety Gears – You must wear safety gear like a helmet, elbow pads, and knee pads. If you are new to riding an electric unicycle, the chances of getting off-balanced and falling off during initial practices are most likely. It is therefore important to invest in safety gear to protect yourself from any major mishaps.
Physical Fitness-It is advisable that you must be physically fit when you plan on getting into electric unicycles. Again, the probability of falling on your feet is quite high especially if you are a beginner. It is therefore important to be fit so that you can at least support or carry yourself more effectively to control the impact when falling or crashing.
How do you ride an Electric Unicycle?
To ride the vehicle, you first need to turn on the switch of the electric unicycle. Put your more dominant foot on the specific pedal in such a way that when you put both your feet on the pedals, the unicycle is between your legs. With your dominant foot on one pedal, gently raise your other foot and place it on the other pedal. Some people prefer making a gentle push to move the vehicle because the little motion of the vehicle allows them to achieve better balance. Incidentally, some riders prefer putting their more dominant foot a little backward to gain better balance instead of having their feet completely parallel to each other.
Once both feet are on the pedals, you can now move the vehicle using your body movements. Lean forward and backward to speed up and slow down the equipment respectively. Lean on the left or right to bring in your weight and shift the center of gravity to turn left or right. Depending on how much weight you put, you can make a big curve or a sharp turn.
While riding the e-unicycle, it is important to make your body relaxed and easy-going instead of stiff and rigid. This allows you to go with the flow or follow the rhythm of the vehicle’s movement so to speak. It can also help if you slightly bend your knees to achieve better stability and clamp your knees on the unicycle to relieve the jolts and movements. You need to learn to absorb the shock using your legs whenever the vehicle passes through bumps or uneven surfaces. For easier riding, you can also opt to buy an electric unicycle that has a seat/saddle and handlebars so that you can better support yourself and keep yourself steady while riding the equipment.
Prices of Electric Unicycles
The price range of electric unicycles widely varies because of the different variants, types, and features of the personal transporter. The price range for a typical e-unicycle is from $200 to $1200. The average price of a quality e-uni wheel is between $500 and $700. Meanwhile an electric unicycle with seats and handles or also known as self-balancing personal transporter can cost from $2000 to $2500.
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