Lit Motors test drives self-balancing electric moto

The San Francisco startup achieved a milestone by demonstrating a working proof-of-concept of its fully enclosed, self-balancing electric motorcycle.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
2 min read

Electric vehicle startup Lit Motors unveiled a working concept of what could be the answer to a conventional motorcycle's biggest drawbacks: one, tipping over, and two, the road rash and laundry list of other ills you could incur if it does.

A YouTube video the company released shows an electric two-wheeled vehicle cruising along San Francisco streets. Rather than straddling a chassis, the driver rides recumbent and is enclosed in a protective metal shell. But what sets the Lit Motors C1 apart from other electric vehicles is its capability to stay upright at a standstill without help from the driver or a third wheel.

Keeping the vehicle vertical is 1,300 pound-feet of torque from an electronically controlled gyroscope. The goal for this personal transportation device is to not fall over in the event of an accident. Miniatures of the C1 show it being able to stay upright when pushed hard sideways, and the current prototype can withstand a kick to the side, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

Lit Motors isn't the only company using gyroscopic technology in vehicles. The Segway is perhaps the most famous self-balancing vehicle, and it's the basis for General Motor's second-generation EN-V platform. And Honda, Ryno Motors, and BPG Motors are all developing a one-wheeled vehicle that won't tip over. So far, in terms of being the most practical and the least geeky, Lit is the clear market leader.

Lit Motors C1 concept (photos)

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But the proof-of-concept shown in the test-drive video is a far cry from the sleek candy-white model that the company touts on its Web site and has shown at conferences. In its current iteration, the C1 looks a lot more steampunk than the Scandinavian design to which it aspires. The shell barely contains the driver, let alone the second passenger it hopes to accommodate, and although specifications call for 40 kilowatt in-wheel electric motors, the prototype currently tops out at 10 mph instead of a proposed 120 mph, reports the Los Angeles Times. It's probably safe to assume it doesn't yet have the 200-mile range that CEO Daniel Kim says the production vehicle will achieve.

However, getting a functioning prototype is an important step toward commercialization. The finished product will be outfitted with a range of vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology to facilitate communication with traffic and charging facilities. Because it rides on two wheels, it is classed as a motorcycle and won't have to go through vehicle crash testing, which will cut down on the development time and red tape. For the detractors already poo-pooing the vehicle's design, keep in mind that the C1 only has to be safer than a motorcycle, not necessarily as safe as a car. The company hopes to have the C1 in its showroom by the end of 2014 with a price tag of about $24,000.