If you ever wish you could just glide along because walking is too much effort, then Toyota's latest invention is just what you need. The Japanese auto-maker showcased a personal mobility product called the "Winglet", which allows users to move around while in a standing position, and I found out it's a lot of fun to ride.
At a launch news conference in Tokyo on Friday, Toyota gave me a chance to test-ride the largest of the three versions, the L-model, which at first glace looks like the easiest one to maneuver as it is the only one equipped with a waist-height handle.
The first thing to learn was how to get on the device.
You have to press a button on the handle while simultaneously putting a foot on one of the foot pads that sit above the motor and wheels. Wait a couple of seconds and a light on the handle turns green. It's the signal to put your other foot up and stand upright on the machine.
Having both feet on the Winglet was a little unnerving at first as I was at a loss as to how to balance and what to do next. The handle helped a lot: it's a source of stability and helps you stand up straight.
Once you've found your center of gravity, there's no fancy footwork involved to start moving. Just lean in the direction you want to go -- forward makes the Winglet move straight ahead while leaning backward puts it in reverse. The Winglet is quite sensitive to movement and pressure so it is easy to build up speed or go slower by adjusting the amount of force you put into leaning forward or backward.
Apart from the feeling of security it brings, the handle is useful for turning right or left and making 360 degree turns. Moving the handle to the left or right while leaning forward makes the Winglet turn in that direction. To make a full turn on the spot, you just have to balance upright and shift the handle fully to either side.
Hurdles such as small humps and sloping surfaces were easy to cross. And I only had to maintain a steady position while going uphill or downhill and the Winglet just moves as if it were a flat surface.
While the Winglet may seem to require a great deal of practice, in reality, it was very easy to get used to because its movement depends on the user's sense of balance.
There is no need to push a pedal to move forward or press brakes to stop -- it automatically followed how I moved according to where I placed my pressure. The only action that required a little more balancing skills was getting off it. Then, it is necessary to press the button on the handle and step down once the light turns red, which signals that the Winglet is turned off.
It only takes about a minute to learn the basics and a couple more to get fully used to the idea of being about six inches off the ground while whizzing around. Once you've surpassed the learning curve, it's literally all fun and games from there.