It has three wheels, two seats, a hard shell, and a surprisingly fun ride. It's the Toyota iRoad, an electric-powered Personal Mobility Device (PMD) concept shown here at CES 2014 that's designed to be faster and safer than a bicycle, but less complicated and polluting than a motorcycle or car. (Follow CES 2014 live, and get the latest CES news here.)
The iRoad has a unique design, with two motorized front wheels that tilt instead of turning, while the back wheel steers. Unlike a bicycle or motorcycle, where the person has to balance, the iRoad manages on its own just fine. Toyota is testing it as a ride-sharing device in Japan and France, and we gathered in a parking lot behind a Toyota dealership in nearby Henderson, Nevada, to try it.
Simple and good for slaloming
The small, slender shell of a vehicle dips and weaves among orange cones. Its front wheels seem to tilt almost drunkenly around the curves, but the vehicle is actually very stable. Its adult drivers, several in succession, smile, laugh, or even whoop as they test the vehicle's turning limits. Cameras click. Video cameras take it all in.
When it's my turn, I ignore some of the cones and head straight for one of the many new cars being stored in this backlot. I drive toward a $40,000 minivan, then seemingly at the last possible second, I spin the wheel and careen away. The way the front wheels tilt into a turn but never tip made me feel like I was floating through every curve. The controls inside are very carlike, with an accelerator and brake, a steering wheel, and a push-button start.
Compared to other such devices we've seen over the years (the Segway scooter comes to mind) the iRoad sacrifices surprisingly little in the way of dignity, safety, or hairstyle. Surprisingly, too, it's pretty fun to drive. The iRoad isn't fast (its top speed is a scant 30 miles per hour), still, Toyota could be missing a go-kart opportunity!