Toyota’s i-REAL ‘personal mobility’ concept vehicle offers a promising glimpse of what might grace our urban streets in the near future. While it vaguely resembles a Segway – a cleverly designed two-wheeled electric scooter – the i-REAL builds on this in a number of ways.
First-off, the i-REAL’s design uses three wheels instead of the Segway’s two, so it’s quite stable, and certainly doesn’t look like something that will just tip over. There are also 3 electric motors, one for each wheel, and it can be driven in two different configurations. The first is a ‘Walking’ mode, where the unit stands upright on its retractable third wheel, and is good for turning in confined spaces, such as a lift, and makes it easy to get in and out.
Want more speed? Just switch to ‘Cruise’ button, and the i-REAL ‘s third wheel slides back, which lowers the centre of gravity and frees up the suspension of the passenger ‘pod’ so it can lean into corners, independently of the wheels. This means you can corner with up to 1G of force, and makes for a very steady ride. In cruise mode, the i-REAL can reach up to a brisk 30km per hour, which is qucker that the 20 km limit for a top of the range Segway i2.
When test driving an i-REAL in Toyota’s AMLUX centre in Tokyo, it only took about a minute to learn the controls. The system is very intuitive – and is based on two joysticks – one for each hand. You simply move the joysticks left to go left, right to go right, forward to accelerate and back (or press the brake trigger) to stop. While I couldn’t push the i-REAL through a rigorous obstacle course, riddled with Australian potholes and coarse bitumen, it did seem very stable and surprisingly nimble during my indoor ride.
And if you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, the i-REAL uses an array of collision avoidance sensors to alert you when people or other vehicles are in close proximity. It will also hit the brakes before you run into something, or someone.
The i-REAL ‘s Lithium-ion batteries will give you about 30km’s of running about (the Segway i2 is rated for 38km), so it’s really just for short hops around town, and it can recharge 80 percent of its battery in 1 hour, and 100 percent in two hours. There’s also regenerative braking, which converts braking force back into energy to top up the battery.
For rainy days, there’s a canopy, and a backpack for carrying the groceries.
You won’t miss the colour LED display on the back of the i-REAL, which can indicate braking, turning, or express the driver’s mood. While the examples during the demonstration included a swimming goldfish and what looked like a solar eclipse, the display would certainly make for an interesting way to express road rage.
The i-REAL is really up with the times by featuring a form of social networking. During your run about town, you can mark, or ‘geo-tag’ favourite destinations that you’d like to return to, and share destinations with other i-REAL ‘friends’. The i-REAL uses a Wi-Fi network to sniff our other i-REAL s that you designate as friends, so you can see where they are in relation to you, and set up meetings.
How much does it cost? While prices have not been set, they only indication that we could get from Toyota was that it would be more than a scooter. Will we see it on Australian shores? Time will tell, but the i-REAL is already being used by security personnel at Japan’s Centrair Airport since June, so it’s closer to fact than fiction.