The Evolution of One-Wheeled Personal Transportation Vehicles
A Brief History of Transport
Starting in ancient Mesopotamia at around 3500BC, the first instances of the wheel pop up. Not used for transport at first, the wheel’s main purpose was spinning clay for the making of pottery. In the following 300 years, the wheel gained an axel, started spinning easier on the ground and began its evolution.
Over the course of the following centuries and millennia, the wheel kept moving up in its uses in agriculture and transportation. From horse-drawn chariots to carts and bicycles, the designs kept being refined over the centuries. The steam engine launched the industrial revolution, making the first trains and cars possible. And with the addition of the internal combustion engine, the modern car came into being in the late 19th century and it took to the roads in a flash. More wheels and features were added, making the car the default form of transport, which kept evolving.
Now that we got the brief history lesson out of the way, we can move on to the fringes of the transportation industry with the inventions that require only a single simple wheel, a moving mechanism and a surface to keep you balanced. From the unicycle to the cool Monowheel electric skateboard, let’s explore the modern one-wheeled wonders of personal transportation.
The Monowheel and the Unicycle
Both a monowheel and a unicycle use the same basic concept. One wheel, one person and a means of rolling. They both came into being at similar times with each other and the bicycle. The main difference though is that on a unicycle, you are seated on a seat above the wheel, whereas with a monowheel, you are inside the wheel itself, turning it from the inside. Nevertheless, both these designs are the blueprint on which the following one-wheeled wonders are built upon.
The One Wheel Electric Skateboard
The onewheel or monowheel electric skateboard may be one of the coolest and most innovative pieces of transportation technology to come into being in recent times. Starting off as a Kickstarter campaign for a brand new type of skateboard, the Onewheel hit the market in 2013.
The patented technology allows for hours of endless fun, with both freedom and safety in mind. How so? Its one thick wheel is extremely stable, durable and rad to say the least. Around the wheel, sits a sturdy space-age looking board on which the rider stands upon. It’s powered by a brushless electric motor with an app that can control many aspects of the one wheel electric skate such as the lean angle, the top speed and the sensitivity of the controls.
It’s a self-balancing electric skateboard, to put it simply. You don’t have to push yourself off as you would with a normal skateboard, as the smart machinery and phone app do that for you. It’s available in two similar designs, the XR and the Pint. The XR is 76cm long, 12.3kg heavy, two way and able to reach speeds of up to 30kph. And the Pint is 68cm, 10.5kg, one way and able to reach 26kph. This makes the Pint easier for beginners to get started with riding a single wheel electric skateboard.
The Onewheel is a pioneer of urban travel for its compact and light design, its stylish look and its versatile maneuvering capabilities that make traversing the city a breeze. No traffic jams, no gridlock, no sweat. Just hop on and get rolling. The battery can last up to 29km on a single charge, depending on the model of course, which makes this electric one wheel both practical and fun to ride at the same time. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but, as Chamillionaire said in the early 2000s, “They see me rolin’, they hatin’”.
In a similar spirit, the one wheel electric unicycle follows the same basic concept as the one wheel electric skate. We usually refer to these devices as Segways due to the Segway Company and their design, but several other manufacturers have come up with the same core concept, that of an electric-powered self-stabilising unicycle.
Usually weighing in at around 15kg, the mono Segway can reach speeds up to 30 kph and travel up to 50km in a single charge. Not bad at all. The controls are lean based and most models also come with an App to customise features and fine-tune your riding experience. It may be the best mono vehicle for urban travel considering its attractive price, but designs for the one-wheeled vehicles can get even stranger.
The mono scooter is like the name suggests, a self-balancing one wheel electric scooter made to have more of a motorbike/scooter look, with all the hallmarks of a one-wheel vehicle. Battery-powered as well. The tech has similar features to the previous two entries, an electric powered motor running on battery power, with similar speeds of up to 30kph and 30km per charge. Though it can be a bit clunky due to its extra weight, at around 21kg, the mono scooter is a more practical transport device, with handlebars and a seat, making your trips more comfortable and a lot more stable.
The Uno One-Wheeled Motorcycle
The Uno is a self-balancing electric motorcycle made to resemble a modern speed bike. Though technically it has two wheels very close to each other, they function as a single thick wheel, so I guess it counts. It was never designed with mass production in mind, just the fever dream of some engineer somewhere.
Vehicles That Never Actually Made It
Way before the electric single wheel skateboard and the Segway, there were some pretty futuristic vehicle prototypes in the early 20th century that were thought to be revolutionary. However, when put to use, they simply weren’t practical, safe or fast as the vehicles that were already available.
The One-Wheeled Car of the Future
Dynasphere was supposed to be the one-wheeled alternative to the car. Plainly put, it was a motorised partial sphere that was shaped to look like a huge wheel. The driver was seated inside the wheel with the gas motor. It was supposed to become the next go-to mode of transportation, but unluckily for its inventor Dr. J. H. Purves, the car was better, safer and already perfect.
One-Wheeled War Machine
The Kugelpanzer. Picture being a German scientist in the midst of WW2 and thinking to yourself “Do you know what we need? A single-wheeled tank, that’s what! I’m going to design and build a mono tank”. Simply brilliant. Though it was designed for battle, it was never actually used in a conflict. Only one single Kugelpanzer is known to have been built, and it was a gift to that Japanese Kwantung Army that was captured by the Soviets in Manchuria and now is on display in the Kubinka Tank Museum.