Japan from the inside out

The Kobot

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, November 26, 2011

WHEN the Segway hit the market 10 years ago next week, some people viewed it as a revolutionary product with the transformational potential of the Internet. Rather than transforming anything, however, after a decade down the road the device has become a SWPL toy for a certain type of status-seeking urbanite who wants to differentiate himself from the bicycle crowd. They’re the same sort of folks who go out of their way to pay through the nose for a mug of designer coffee at a trendy shop rather than a regular cup of Joe.

The adult two-wheeler hasn’t even got that far in Japan, where only about a thousand have been sold. Here, they’re used exclusively by corporate employees on larger tracts of private property, such as production plants or theme parks. The Nagasaki resort Huis ten Bosch, for example, has 10 of them.

Those looking for an intermediate alternative to the automobile and the bicycle might be interested in test driving a new transportation device jointly developed by the robot manufacturer tmsuk (yes, that’s how they spell it) and pharmaceutical/industrial equipment manufacturer Kyowa. It’s called the Kobot, and they’re touting it as the next-generation electric personal vehicle. The public will get a chance to see it up close for the first time when it’s exhibited in this year’s Tokyo Motor Show, which opens in the first week of December.

The two companies have a vision for the Kobot similar to that people once had for the Segway. They see it as a car that will change the shape of the future – the shape of vehicles, the shape of transportation, and the relationship between people and their cars. Indeed, the car itself is capable of changing shape. One of the three models can be folded in a manner similar to a cellphone to reduce its size by about 25% for storage.

As you can see from the photo, it is compact and shaped somewhat like a bean, or at least that’s what the promo material says. At present, there are two one-person models and one two-person model. Kyowa/tmsuk are projecting speeds of 45-80 kilometers per hour, and they’re working to give it the capability of traveling for up to 100 kilometers on one charge.

In addition to use by a single owner, the developers anticipate the increasing popularity in Japan of car-sharing schemes in condos and other urban neighborhoods will create another niche for the vehicle. If things fall into place, it could be commercialized and placed on the market next fall.

If that happens, perhaps they could use this as a tip for their TV ads.

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