Why the Japanese 'car in a bag' will succeed where the Segway flopped

You may have seen the WalkCar, a laptop-sized personal vehicle that’s scheduled to come out next spring. 

Created by the Japanese startup Cocoa Motors, it looks awesome.

The gliding motion of the “car in a bag” is effortless, natural. 

It gets me thinking: why don’t we have a device for covering distances that are too far to walk, but for whatever reason, don’t make sense for a bicycle trip.

It’s what the Segway tried to do, and failed — save for mall cops and tour groups. 

While I live in New York, where most residents live near one of the city’s 468 subway stations, a piece of my heart is in San Francisco. And here’s the thing about the Bay Area and many cities in the US: public transit, in its haphazard, multiagency glory, is often mediocre at best. 

Consider the trans-bay commute, which so many people do every day: if you’re coming from the East Bay to San Francisco, you’ll have to hoof it to get to the subway line, which will then take you to work. 

This means that some people drive to the train, which is nuts. People who truly don’t care what they look like to the rest of the world get an unwieldy foldable bike — hardly the thing you want to take with you to happy hour, yoga, the gun range, or whatever else you’ve got going on in the evening.

Similarly, Chicago is set up in a hub-and-spoke-transit system, where all trains feed into the downtown Loop. That’s fine if you’re taking the northwesterly Blue Line from Logan Square to downtown or taking the north-south Red Line from Wrigleyville, but it 
sucks to try and take transit from Logan Square to Lincoln Park, since it’s East-West, which the trains don’t support. 

Therein lies the promise of the WalkCar —  something design people call “human factors,” the study of how people actually relate to devices in their lives. 

The WalkCar, with its laptop-slim size, could integrate into your life in a way that other stopgap forms of personal transit, like the Segway and electric bike, don’t. The indoor model reportedly weighs 4.4 pounds, about as much as a MacBook Pro, meaning you can realistically stuff it into a bag and carry it around all day. The outdoor model comes in at 6.6 pounds, making it a little less handy.

There’s even a behavioural precedent for the way you move once you’re on the WalkCar: the sleek and widely-used skateboard.

The Segway, conversely, looks ridiculous.

It’s still early days for the WalkCar. The Kickstarter hasn’t even started yet, and given that it cruises at 6.2 miles an hour, you’d probably hurt yourself in a crash. And while you can slow down by leaning back — like a Segway — you can only bring the vehicle to a stop by hopping off, which sounds a little risky. 

But if the Cocoa Motors team can pull it off, the $US800 WalkCar could be a hit.

This time next year, the same nerds that bought an Apple Watch may be cruising to their startup jobs on a WalkCar. It’s the ‘inevitable‘ sort of design that Jony Ive will have wished he brought into the world. 

Watch the promo video below.

 

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