Students from the University of Adelaide are promoting a weird and wacky electric-vehicle design as the future of clean city commuting: The Electric Diwheel. Half motorbike, half unicycle, entirely something that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a sci-fi flick were it decorated with inappropriate extra metal, machine guns, and painted black. The contraption is actually very clever and could be considered a peek into the medium future of city commuting, where person-sized vehicles are more efficient.
It’s called the Electric Diwheel With Active Rotation Damping (yup, that acronym spells “Edward”) because that’s exactly what it is. It’s a two-wheeled vehicle with the pilot sitting in an open cabin mounted inside the radius of the two wheels. It can manage 40 kilometers an hour, and a mere 12 degree incline–which rules out San Francisco, but makes it ideal for many cityscapes. The car uses simple engineering and is steered by a joystick, but its main cleverness is in using active damping to stop the pilot’s cabin “gerbiling” (running around inside the wheel) when it accelerates or stops.
The engineering students’ approach to the Electric Diwheel harks back to the beginning of the car industry, where designers were unrestrained by use cases or notions of traffic congestion and began to build ever-bigger cars because, well, why not? But our modern city journeys are most often about moving single people about at convenient speeds, and thus cars cause congestion simply by taking up road space they don’t need to be taking. It’s a problem that vehicles like the Segway or Smart Car were designed to overcome, but as yet have failed to.
But the Diwheel is in some ways better than the Segway because it doesn’t require power to balance–when it’s powered off during traffic stops it simply stays put, and it’s smaller and altogether more radical than the Smart Car (and also wastes less electrical power hauling around its much-lighter chassis). And unlike other radical bi-wheeled EVs, like the Uno cycle, the pilot of Edward is protected inside its frame rather than teetering on the top of it. If we can simply reconsider our thoughts about what a car is, there are vast new transportation paradigms open to us.
Plus, the “vehicle in a wheel” has a bunch of historical precedents from the Michelin bike-wheel, to older monowheels. And yes, there’s a fleeting similarity to the rocket-powered Great Panjandrum weapon tested by the British during WWII… although in this case with far less risk of deadly explosions.