Toyota has a long term vision. The population of Japan is aging rapidly. Toyota has invested in personal transportation and personal robotic assistance for quite some time. I must admit this new Winglet doesn’t seem like an incredible breakthrough to me (their earlier iUnit seems much better to me – though I am sure much more expensive too). The interest to me is in their continued focus on this market which I think is a smart move. The aging population worldwide (and others) will benefit greatly from improved personal mechanical assistance.
The Winglet is one of Toyota’s people-assisting Toyota Partner Robots. Designed to contribute to society by helping people enjoy a safe and fully mobile life, the Winglet is a compact (you stand just above the wheels and it reaches about the level of your knees) next-generation everyday transport tool that offers advanced ease of use and expands the user’s range of mobility.
The Winglet consists of a body that houses an electric motor, two wheels and internal sensors that constantly monitor the user’s position and make adjustments in power to ensure stability. Meanwhile, a unique parallel link mechanism allows the rider to go forward, backward and turn simply by shifting body weight, making the vehicle safe and useful even in tight spaces or crowded environments.
Toyota plans various technical and consumer trials to gain feedback during the Winglet’s lead-up to practical use. Practical tests of its utility as a mobility tool are planned to begin in Autumn 2008 at Central Japan International Airport (Centrair) near Nagoya, and Laguna Gamagori, a seaside marine resort complex in Aichi Prefecture. Testing of its usefulness in crowded and other conditions, and how non-users react to the device, is to be carried out in 2009 at the Tressa Yokohama shopping complex in Yokohama City.
Toyota is pursuing sustainability in research and development, manufacturing and social contribution as part of its concept to realize “sustainability in three areas” and to help contribute to the health and comfort of future society. Toyota Partner Robot development is being carried out with this in mind and applies Toyota’s approach to monozukuri (“making things”), which includes its mobility, production and other technologies.
Toyota aims to realize the practical use of Toyota Partner Robots in the early 2010s.