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Ideas in Motion

In May 2010 I wrote about a couple of personal transport projects in a post titled Segway to U3-X. Naturally, the Segway Personal Transport (PT) is in production with a variety of options and models. Honda’s U3-X, though cool and seemingly quite practical, as far as I know has yet to see a showroom floor. Perhaps the U3-X was just a platform for Honda’s engineers to research mobility possibilities. But maybe we’ll see something that looks like the U3-X in Honda’s future product portfolio, or maybe we’ll see lessons learned from the concept appear in other Honda creations. Time and market opportunities will tell.

While doing a bit of research for a recent blog post, I ran across two more examples of concept vehicles in the personal transport category. One is called Embrio and is the brain child of engineers at Bombardier in Quebec, Canada. Though I couldn’t find a video of the Embrio in action – it may not even exist as a working prototype – the pictures tell a pretty intriguing story. According to an article in Forbes, the Embrio not only sports gyroscope-based technology to balance both machine and rider, it’s powered by fuel cell technology. Pretty cool idea, though cruising along at roadway speeds might lead to more excitement than I’m ready to sign up for just now.

The second vehicle is the Segway Centaur (yes, I like Segway’s machines) – kind of a four-wheeled version of the Segway PT. Among its other features, the Centaur gives the stability of a four wheel foot print when needed, with the maneuverability of the Segway PT’s two wheel stance when the rider is in a tight spot. I read a Popular Science article about the Centaur several years ago, but never saw it in action. Thanks to YouTube, however, anyone can now see the Centaur out and about on a test drive. Sadly, the Centaur, like the U3-X and Embrio, remains a research project. All would certainly be a lot of fun to ride.

Every mechatronics product, including the 4 mentioned in this post, goes through 3 general project phases: idea, research, production (I know…there are a lot of details behind these 3 phases, but the details are prompts for another discussion). During the idea phase, engineers ask a lot of “What if?” questions – the brainstorming sessions at the local pub complete with back-of-the-napkin illustrations and calculations. If an idea is lucky, it gets promoted to the Research phase where engineering experience is combined with modeling, simulation, and analysis to turn an idea into a working prototype. From the Research phase, even fewer ideas make it to the Production phase and are turned into something users can purchase.

Many, many products make it to the Idea phase – in keeping with the theme of this post, there are a gazillion personal transport ideas floating around; as the old adage goes, “Ideas are a dime a dozen”. Relatively few of the ideas, however, find their way to the Research phase – for their sponsoring companies, the Segway PT, U3-X, Embrio, and Segway Centaur made the cut. Then there are the rare few that have enough momentum to actually see the Production phase and make it to market – like the Segway PT. To be successful, a company has to find and nurture the ideas that can make it all the way to the Production phase and hopefully turn a profit.

Modeling, ideas

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About Mike Jensen

Mike JensenMost career paths rooted in high technology take many interesting (and often rewarding) twists and turns. Mine has certainly done just that. After graduating in electrical engineering from the University of Utah (go Utes!), I set off to explore the exciting, multi-faceted high tech industry. My career path since has wound its way from aircraft systems engineering for the United States Air Force, to over two decades in applications engineering and technical marketing for leading design automation software companies, working exclusively with mechatronic system modeling and analysis tools. Along the way, I’ve worked with customers in a broad range of industries and technologies including transportation, communications, automotive, aerospace, semiconductor, computers, and consumer electronics; all-in-all a very interesting, rewarding, and challenging ride. In my current gig, I work on technical marketing projects for Mentor Graphics' SystemVision product line. And in my spare time I dream up gadgets and gizmos, some even big enough to qualify as systems, that I hope someday to build -- providing I can find yet a little more of that increasingly elusive spare time. Visit Mike Jensen's Blog

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