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Tomorrow's Transportation Today: The Uno by Ben Gulak

It has zero emissions, a simple on off switch, one wheel (okay, two wheels but they are really close together) and killer looks. And, it was invented by an 18 year old from Ontario.

The Uno by Ben Gulak. Tomorrow's Transportation Today.
Cost to Develop: $45,000
Time: 2 years

The inspiration for the cycle came when 18 year old Ben Gulak visited China in 2006 and was amazed at the overwhelming pollution that completely blocked the view of the surrounding country as his airplane came in for landing. He realized that much of that smog was coming from the thousands of motor scooters whizzing through the streets and figured that there had to be a better way.

Above: Ben Gulak, an incoming member of the MIT Class of 2012, rides the 'Uno'--a scooter-like vehicle he invented that was named the top invention of the year by Popular Science. Photo courtesy / Glenn Roberts, Motorcycle Mojo Magazine

The design he came up with has two wheels mounted side by side, very close together, and powered by electric motors. A computerized control system keeps the vehicle balanced, in a system similar to the Segway personal transporter. But unlike that vehicle, which is ridden in a standing position and is not considered a street vehicle, Gulak's "Uno" is ridden like a motorcycle and designed for ordinary roads.

Operating the Uno is so simple that it requires no controls at all. There is only an on-off switch. Once it's on, the driver accelerates by leaning forward, stops by leaning back, and steers by leaning to the side. By sitting upright, the driver can balance in one spot.

Above: inventor Ben Gulak with his Uno.

Gulak put off college for a year (now 19, he enrolls at MIT this fall) and began building the Uno at a motorcycle shop outside Toronto. He modified the frame from a Yamaha R1, which is wider than most motorcycles, so it can house the side-by-side wheels.

Above: Ben Gulak sits on his self-balancing electric “unicycle” in its early stages outside his home near Toronto. Photo by John B. Carnett

But he quickly realized that he was out of his depth in the electronics department: He would ride the Uno for a few seconds, and the circuitry would catch fire. So he contacted Trevor Blackwell, a robotics engineer who specializes in self-balancing software. With Blackwell’s help, Gulak equipped the Uno with a gyroscope and a control system that both keeps the rider balanced over the tires and manages the suspension.

The Uno’s two wheelchair motors should, theoretically, give it a top speed of 40 mph, but for safety’s sake, Gulak hasn’t taken it above 15 mph yet. “The only way to figure out if an alteration works is to jump on and ride the thing,” he says. “I’m pretty sure I chipped my kneecap in one crash.”

Gulak’s next task is reworking the suspension to handle more drastic leans, but he says he may need some help writing the code that keeps the Uno balanced at faster speeds. “The fundamental tech is figured out,” he says. “It just needs the right people to tweak it.”

Above: testing out the cool new green transportation

above: Inventor Ben Gulak, of Milton, Ontario

Thanks to Popular Science, Motorcycle Mojo magazine and MIT news for images and info

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