Putting the “Science” in “Science Fiction” – Monowheels

One of the technologies that crops up in science fiction a lot, despite their apparent flaws, is the monowheel or powered unicycle. Although their appearances may change the core concept of these vehicles is that the rely on only a single wheel for movement, instead of the traditional two or four. At first glance these vehicles seem like simply whimsical ideas confined to the screen or the pages of science fiction stories, but the fact that companies are already building them suggests they have at least some merit.

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When it comes to one wheel vehicles there are two main types, the first of which is the monowheel. This type of vehicle comprises one gigantic wheel which the rider sits inside of, and is operated from a seated posture, like the ones seen in the third Men in Black or Star Wars movies. Although poorly known, real versions of these vehicles have existed since the 1800’s, with pedal and hand cranked versions eventually being replaced with motorized models. A few modern versions even exist, though they are usually limited to enthusiasts and use at festivals. Although these bikes are functional and road-worthy they do have some major drawbacks, such as limited carrying capacity, poor handling, and visibility issues. There are also safety concerns such as tipping over or “gerbiling,” where a sudden brake or acceleration can cause the drive to ride up the inside of the wheel, likely causing a dangerous fall. Due to these issues and the novelty of the design few people use them in their daily lives.


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Another area of exploration is what I will refer to as the “monobike,” since calling them powered unicycles does not seem to due these advanced machines justice. The concept of the monobike is that it is ridden like a regular motorcycle, but with only one wheel. This reduces the size of the bike and makes it more fuel efficient, and many of these machines are designed to be totally electric. These designs range from halfway between models like the Uno, which has two wheels placed right next to each other, to the Audi A M or Ryno, both of which are electric monobikes. The secret to the creation of monobikes is the use of an advanced gyroscopic stabilization system that keeps them upright, similar to the system used in Segways. These vehicles promise a sporty, fuel-efficient and cheap transportation solution, though their small size means there may be some safety concerns to be addressed before they become common and steering can take some getting used to.

The use of gyroscopes is not limited to Segways and monobikes however, and has even extended into the creation of single wheeled electric skateboards. All of these single wheeled vehicles may appear to be novelties right now, but it is possible that in the future they will become a common form of transportation. Only time will tell.