Dozens of people riding scooters down urban sidewalks sounds like a recipe for disaster, but what if all those scooters were inflatables? In that world, potential crashes would be more like games of gentle bumper cars. At least, that’s what you might hope when you see these two oddball creations from Poimo (“portable and inflatable mobility”), a Japanese manufacturer of personal mobility devices.
Combining “soft robotics technology” with mobility devices like scooters, wheelchairs, and motorcycles, Poimo aims to offer soft, safe, and lightweight rideable creations that can be easily carried around as necessary. Their latest offering, created in collaboration with Kawahara Lab/Niiyama Lab of the University of Tokyo and Mercari R4D, is a scooter that weighs just 5.5 kilograms and can be folded into a reasonably-sized backpack.
The scooter’s inflatable body is made of a durable thermoplastic polyurethane attached to an electronic and mechanical base which includes the electric motor, handlebars, battery, front and rear wheels, and a wireless controller. It takes just five minutes to get it ready to ride. The Poimo’s creators have already tested it in Tokyo, and for now it at least seems like it actually works.
They explain that “this mobility [scooter] aims to support the first mile / last mile and connect public transportation and destinations seamlessly. To reduce the weight of its body along with its inflatable structure, we have developed a wireless / battery-less powering system suitable for this mobility in cooperation with the wireless power transfer group.”
Poimo’s other equally weird and cool creation is a customizable inflatable vehicle that acts as both a manual wheelchair and an electric motorcycle. In this case, even the wheels are inflatable. They’re definitely a few steps beyond folding bikes in terms of portability, but one wonders just how long they’d last in real-world conditions on the road. Info about this particular model has disappeared from the company’s website, but you can still see how it works in the YouTube video above.
The creators add that they “developed the personal mobility Poimo with a balloon structure that can be designed to suit each individual simply by taking a riding pose. We have prototyped an electric motorcycle type and a manual wheelchair type that can be completely folded when the air is removed. By developing a new vehicle whose body and wheels are made of balloon structure, it has become possible for the first time to customize each vehicle one by one. Newly developed design software makes it easy for anyone to design personal mobility.”
“The light and soft Poimo, which can be deflated and folded, opens up a new field of personal mobility. Taking advantage of being custom-made for each individual, we will contribute to the realization of an inclusive society where everyone can acquire the means of transportation that suits them.”
This invention in particular seems to present an intriguing potential step forward in accessibility: allowing a wheelchair user to seamlessly transition from indoor use to outdoor commuting, going just as fast as anyone else on the road. Whether “Poimo” is really the answer is up for debate, but it’s a great example of thinking outside the box that could lead to more practical innovations in the near future. For more details on how it works, check out the press release from Mercari.