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EETE JAN 2016

NEWS & TECHNOLOGY ceeltrbilmooty Hublex: a custom fit for industrial mobility By Julien Happich With its slim and lightweight hub-less gyropod, French startup Hublex is onto something big, so to speak, looking at a market potentially much bigger than what Segway was ever able to serve with its comparatively cumbersome individual transport solution. Interestingly enough, the French hub-less implementation finds its origins in a thorough teardown of a Segway gyropod at the IUT of Cachan (University Institute of Technology in Cachan, France). The teardown triggered enough interest from students and professors to make them want to build their own version, with ingenious simplifications. But hasn’t Segway carefully protected its inventions? “Yes it has”, concedes Jonathan Lévy, Hublex’ CEO. “But patents only last for 20 years, the first Segways were conceived 23 years ago and all the IP relating to these self-balancing gyropods, the control algorithms in particular, have been in the public domain for the last three years”. As a university project led by professor Pascal Martinelli (now Hublex’ scientific supervisor), mechanical and electronic engineering students set to investigate a better way to build their own gyropod. In particular, something lightweight and truly portable that they could use to wiz around on the campus (the original Segway weighs about 60kg and can’t be easily lifted upstairs). Ensued five years of research and development which yielded a gyropod with roughly half the footprint, only 38cm wide, and weighing a fifth (12kg), while offering better performances and higher reliability, mobility-wise, at a fraction of the price of Segways. “The teardown revealed there were many mechanical parts just for motor reduction, and a lot of complex electronics associated with it. We found about 2000 part references, whereas our solution now only has about 45 references”, explained Lévy, admitting that electronics and technology has come a long way in 20 years. The most innovative part of the Hublex is its electric motor configuration (one for each wheel), with the axis sitting directly in contact with the internal circumference of the wheels’ rims. The rims are driven by friction, they also act as the gear reduction mechanism (you only need to run the motor faster to increase speed to your liking). Hublex’ CEO Jonathan Levy, stepping on a working prototype. This configuration also self-centres the wheels and lowers the platform. “With this arrangement, we can benefit from a natural x10 to x15 gear reduction (depending on wheel size) while greatly reducing weight. Also this allows the platform to be only 10cm off the ground, compared to 25cm for the Segways. This means you don’t need to wear a helmet to prevent knocking yourself out accidentally on a door frame” explains Lévy. But that’s not all. The control handle has been designed as a lightweight and removable mechanical joystick (for easier packaging), situating the gyropod’s centre of gravity below the wheels’ axis, hence it is self-balanced even in the off-mode (as long as you don’t step on it). Lévy is aiming the new gyropod at the industrial B2B market, for maintenance, security and emergency staff on large sites where either walking long distances or driving a car is counter-productive. “All our prospective clients use or have used Segways, but they soon realized their limitations. The motors’ axles directly sit on the internal rim of the hub-less wheels. 14 Electronic Engineering Times Europe January 2016 www.electronics-eetimes.com


EETE JAN 2016
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