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Will Japanese 'Segway' ever get off the ground?

Japan's AIST lab recently showed off its version of the Segway--the joystick-controlled AIST Micromobility vehicle. It boasts an obstacle sensor to help riders navigate crowded environments.

Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Last November, we got a peek at a pair of robotic roller skates that Japanese engineers have been working on, and recently those same researchers showed off a homegrown version of the Segway that features an obstacle sensor.

The AIST Micromobility vehicle from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology's (AIST's) Field Robotics Research Group is a platform-type ride instead of the skates we saw at the 2009 International Robot Exhibition (iRex) in Tokyo.

Like the skates, it has control poles and is designed to be a lightweight, compact alternative to walking or riding a bike. But with a top speed of 3.5 mph, it's faster than the skates, which had a top speed of about 2.5 mph. That's still way slower than a Segway i2's 12.5 mph.

Direction is controlled via a joystick on the right-hand pole. Like the Segway, it contains a series of gyroscopes for balance and its wheels can rotate in opposite directions, enabling it to spin in place. It also has shock absorbers and cargo capacity.

The vehicle's Hokuyo laser range finder obstacle sensor, though, would make it more suited to Tokyo's crowded streets. When the sensor detects an obstacle, it stops the Micromobility safely.

It's still not legal to ride Segways on public roads in Japan, so it's hard to see why a state-backed research lab like AIST is developing the Micromobility vehicle. What's more, they've been at it for at least five years, as these photos show.

But the engineers plan to try out the vehicle on the streets in a special new "mobile robot test zone" in Tsukuba, a science city northeast of Tokyo that's home to AIST. Hopefully that will help change vehicle laws in Japan--and make streets there more friendly to joystick-happy drivers. What would really make us happy though? Seeing AIST's humanoid robots driving the thing.

(Via DigInfo)