Toyota, Sony Develop Personal Transportation Robot

Toyota demonstrated on Friday a Segway-like personal transportation device called the Winglet that is partly based on robotics technology from Sony.

The Winglet looks something like a slimmed-down version of the American-built Segway and is ridden in a standing position. It can carry an average-sized person a distance of up to 10 kilometers at a speed of around 6 kilometers per hour, Toyota said at a Tokyo news conference.

It was developed by a 10-man team that includes five engineers on loan from Sony. The consumer electronics giant approached Toyota last year about transferring some of its technology to the auto-maker's robotics program after Sony closed down its own robotics work, which was symbolized by the Aibo robot dog. In addition to the five Sony employees, two of the Toyota employees on the team previously worked for Sony.

The Winglet is considerably lighter than the Segway, but has a shorter range and runs more slowly. The rider pushes a handle forward to make the device move ahead, pulls back to reverse or stop and pushes the handle to the side to turn.

Three versions of the Winglet have been developed. The biggest difference between them is size of the handle. On the large version it comes right up to waist height and gives the rider something to hold on to, while the smallest of the three has a much lower bar that rises to midway up the rider's shins.

The smallest weighs 10 kilograms and has a range of about 5 kilometers. The medium and large models both weigh a little over 12 kilograms and have double the range. All have the same cruising speed of 6 kilometers an hour -- a brisk walking pace. In comparison, the Segway i2 weighs 48 kilograms, can travel up to 38 kilometers and has a top speed of 20 kilometers per hour.

All three versions of the Winglet occupy a footprint 26 centimeters long by 46 centimeters wide, which is smaller than the amount of space usually occupied by a human, according to Toyota.

Toyota envisages the device will be someday used by people to travel around urban areas and is small enough for a commuter to carry with them on the train or in the trunk of a car, it said. However the company doesn't have any immediate plans to commercialize the device. Trials will begin later this year at Chubu International Airport in Nagoya and at a nearby resort and are scheduled to continue next year at the Tressa Yokohama shopping mall near Tokyo.

Toyota has an active robotics program and have previously shown humanoid robots that can play musical instruments. The robotics program is a test-bed for numerous technologies that eventually make their way into industrial robots used by Toyota to assemble cars and, as is the case with the Winglet, into transportation devices that might one day supplement or replace traditional cars.

It hopes to commercialize its first partner robots in the early 2010s.

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