For those of you looking for The Next Segway, your wait is over: the Quebecois firm has created a prototype for the EMBRIO, a one-wheeled concept vehicle. As Bombardier describes it on their web site:

Riding the Bombardier EMBRIO concept in the real world would be a thrill. With a riding position similar to a motorcycle, the EMBRIO uses a complex series of sensors and gyroscopes to balance one or more human passengers on a single wheel. Technology will be used to harness the laws of physics, with the gyroscopes and sensors, a high-performance braking system, active suspension, night vision and robotic assistance.

You really have got to love the delirious futuristic weasel words here: The EMBRIO will “harness the laws of physics” in some mysterious way, and employe “robotic assistance.” Clearly the engineers have no clue how the heck to build this thing, but do I care? No, I just want to know where I can put a downpayment on the first one to roll off the production line, which Bombardier figures should be sometime around 2025.

Astute sci-fi readers will no doubt have noticed the similarity between this vehicle and the one described in The Roads Must Roll, a short story by Robert Heinlein. In Heinlein’s tale, all the cities in the US are connected via a series of walkways that move in sequentially faster paces: Step onto the first one, and it’s going around 5 miles an hour; the adjacent walkway is moving at 10 miles an hour, and up and up, so that you can eventually walk out to a road moving at about 100 miles an hour, allowing you to travel from one city to another in a only a half-hour or so, merely on foot. Some insurgents decide to shut down a few of the faster-moving roads, which causes incredible havoc (because of course, the immobile road is right next to a road with people on it moving at 70 miles an hour … causing some ghastly collisions when people lose their balance). The mechanics who maintain and fix these roads ride around on one-wheeled gyroscopic devices that are almost precisely like the EMBRIO.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for finding this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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