One Finite Planet

Personal Mobility Advance: Unagi Model One Electric Scooter. Unagi Model 11 Mystery.

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Table of Contents

(see the mystery below). Way back in 2001, Dean Kamen launched the Segway, heralding a new era in personal mobility. Although the Segway did not deliver that new era, it is possible he was onto something that is gradually becoming a reality. This is a look at how far the Unagi E500 model one electric scooter advances personal mobility, and what broader steps technology has made towards personal mobility.

Personal Mobility.

A Superpower?

I have previously discussed the idea of ‘superpowers‘, where in the spirit of Batman and Ironman, ‘tools’ provide humans with abilities far beyond those we posses physically. Genetically we may be similar to a human of 100,000 years ago, but our knowledge and tools make us so different. One of greatest new superpowers is the enhanced ability to get from place to place. Public transport and airlines provide great capability, but there is a greater feeling of power from our ability to use our own personal ‘enhancement’ to travel from place to place. This may be one reason that for almost a century, learning to drive has been a coming of age in many societies. However, the car has lost some of its lustre to the newer enhancement of the mobile phone.

Portable, Personal Mobility: Back To The Future, Cars, Segways and Jetpacks.

The Unagi is a portable personal mobility, which you can pick up and carry. A motorcycle, Vespa, and even performance electric scooters, are all outside this category.

To be more ‘personal‘ than the car, which requires a parking space when not in use, mobility needs to bring a big advance in how easy it is to bring with you everywhere like a smartphone, or even the transponder in Star Trek that enables ‘beaming up’. The hoverboard from back to the future certainly looks extremely portable, but I cannot recall much being made of the ability to carry one wherever you went. Bicycles, Segway and even jetpacks all suffer the same limitation of needing to be parked somewhere, although folding bikes, electric scooters, and electric unicycles are all able to be brought onto public transport, into the office, to a friends home, and even to a store or restaurant.

They are all still bulkier and heavier than true ‘personal mobility’, but they are getting there.

Scooters And Personal Mobility: Bad For Economic Activity?

Scooters Threaten Gov. Revenues, And Save Use Of Cars, Which Reduces Economic Activity.

Governments seems to have mixed feelings on supporting personal mobility, and although considerations are made, for many governments, it like their heart is just not in it. Walking, riding a bike, and even a scooter can be good for health, and solve a transport problem, but they are detrimental to economic activity as riding costs too little. If people can reach their destination without public transport or use of fuel, potentially tolls, needing parking, or potentially other traffic income, then economic activity is reduced. Sometimes, it seems this shows. I recently encountered a situation where public transport infrastructure closed of a section of a walking path, forcing those who choose to walk to find an circuitous and much longer path in time and distance. This was probably not intentional, but rather, a result of decisions by those who feel walking or even riding is not a priority.

Scooters OK As Long As Neither Free, Nor Used For Commuting.

Then there is the case of the state of Victoria where, as with the UK right now, currently riding a privately owned scooter is illegal. It is legal if the scooter is hired, which means there is economic activity, but even if the same scooter is privately owned, which would mean the use has no hire fee, then that use is illegal.

Of course, that rules out use for solving the ‘last mile problem’ of commuting, as that last mile links home to the transport hub, and bringing a hire scooter home for the evening is either uneconomic, or against the terms of hire. If you are going to start your journey to the transport hub, from home, you would need to own the scooter.

Overall, this rule prevents use for commuting, and only really facilitates use as a leisure activity that also generate additional economic activity. Hopefully locations like Victoria and the UK

Unfortunately for governments, bicycles have been around too long to ban them now, but at least they are too cumbersome for public transport at peak times in most situations, limiting their use for ‘last mile’. Even those who can commute their entire distance by bicycle, may be restricted by the fact a bicycle takes up far more room at the destination.

Hopefully these “only legal if hired” rules will end, and sanity will prevail. While governments are lured by the temptation of increasing, popularity wins votes.

The Unagi Model One Contribution To Personal Mobility.

There are scooters for off-road, and scooters with greater capabilities, but as far as portability and urban transport goes, the Unagi model one rates well. For portable personal mobility, portability is critical. However, at around 12kg (26 lbs) The Unagi Model One is still not something you would take everywhere. I explore this further under ‘my experience’, and also look at comparisons between alternatives in ‘last mile mobility‘.

The Unagi Model One User Manual.

These images from the booklet that comes with the Unagi are on their web site, but if you want a single document instead of a printed booklet, I have put it into a pdf .

The Unagi Mode One E500.

Before Riding.

What Are My Personal Transport Needs?

As already discussed, I am interested in the concept of personal mobility. My purchase of the Unagi was not in response to a specific or pressing need, but I had been interested for some time and when the price of the Unagi E500 model one dropped by just over 40%, I decided it was a good time to purchase and see what use cases arise. In reality, I expect the use cases to be fringe, as our entire society is built around current transport options: cars, public transport, and the occasional concession to the bicycle.

I live in a home, which as typical for any home, has significant elements designed specifically to accommodate cars, such as having a parking place and driveway. The home is reached by a very extensive road network specifically designed around motor vehicles, and shopping and restaurant/entertainment districts I visit are designed around the need for car parking and access by car or public transport. It is easy to forget just how far our living situation has evolved around ‘cars’.

Unboxing.

People rave about the ‘unboxing experience’ of the Unagi Model One. While I believe it may be a far nicer box than almost any other scooter, within 2 days, the box had gone to recycling, and there was nothing special to keep, beyond that there were 6 screws in the box, and only four are needed, so you get two spares. The assembly was quite fast, although I found the lower rear screw hardest to insert, and in my case, I found it necessary to remove the other screws and then fit the lower rear screw first.

Once assembled, it is logical to plug in to start charging. After it has been charging for a while, the temptation is to power up. Nothing happens if you do, as it turns out that the scooter will not power up while it is charging.

Why Did I Choose The Unagi?

I and building a comparison of different possible mobility choices in a separate section where I compare scooters, and compare scooters against other alternatives. Different choices have different strengths, but combined with a discounted price, my own decision was influenced by what i saw as the specific points that work for me as identified in reviews which were generally quite favourable. The key points being:

  • Negatives:
    • price
    • range
    • lack of suspension
  • Positives
    • Light Weight
    • Power and especially hill climbing
    • Build quality, materials, and aesthetics.

I felt I would not ride far, but I do live in a hilly location, and see some of my potential usage also involving public transport. So light, and ability climb hills both matter to me. One key point for me that was not given attention in reviews: dual motor as opposed to one single high power motor. Reviews tend to focus on total power, but having both wheels driven has advantages in traction, regenerative braking and combined the benefit of driving the back wheel, traction climbing hills, and the front, less prone to jamming the front wheel on an obstacle such as a stone. A key negative point is the Unagi model one has no connectivity, which precludes software updates, and electronic security, both of which would be highly desirable to me

Riding: My Experience of ‘Personal Mobility’ Using the Unagi E500 Model One.

First Impressions.

Reporting on the full experience will take time to build up, and I will revisit this section as the experience grows. The first two observations were, yes the Unagi can climb really steep slopes where you might expect traction could be a problem, and 12kg gets heavy quicker than it appears it would after watching videos of people nonchalantly carrying their scooter. Riding was basically instinctive with less than 5 minutes to get the feel. The right pedal for accelerate and left for braking feels natural. Braking is extremely effective using just regenerative braking, and although it is normal to need to put a foot down just before reaching a complete stop anyway, braking does not create a complete stop. More than adequate in practice, except for one one really steep path (steeper than any road) where I did find it best to use the rear manual brake to control speed.

Security.

Bosvision ThiefBuster 70mm 188 grams

One of the the first two things I obtained was a lock. Despite it being hard to find advice on a lock beforehand, this lock seems close to perfect. It is very small and light, yet can secure the scooter to a bike rack or other fixture, as long as there is a rail no more than 40mm in diameter available. I did see a recommendation that include chain, cable and folding locks, but beware, there is no point where any of these can be threaded through the Unagi for a secure attachment. The US Unagi site is better, suggesting an ‘Ottolock cinch lock’ (145 grams) for low risk environments, with a a U-bolt around the foot plate as the more secure option. The lightest U-bolt I have found is the “bosvision”, and it can be used around footplate or stem depending on the risk setting, however, unless there is a convenient rail of 40mm or less in diameter, then one of those chain cable or folding locks would be needed to secure the now u-bolt secured scooter.

Thick rail.
Lightweight 90g ring lock.

Larger heavier U-Bolts can accommodate thicker rails alone, but the total solution will be heavier, and care is required to ensure the u-bolt is a sufficiently tight fit, to ensure that the scooter cannot be simply slid though the U section. I also have a very light weight “ring” lock that can be used either to secure the bosvision U-bolt to a thick rail, or used alone around the stem in lower risk environments. Given the scooter should not be left in the rain, the lightweight ring lock covers most of my needs, and is the lightest solution of all at 90 grams.

The model 11 with motion detection and software locking, would also allow leaving the scooter in locations where there locking is not practical, such at the entrance to a store such as a supermarket where it may be awkward to bring the scooter inside.

Carrying the Unagi.

My other initial purchase, was a carry strap. As I mentioned before 12kg is not insignificant. Although picking up the scooter to climb a flight of stairs is no problem at all, I have an example of a ride with a 500 meter carry required along a walking trail through a national park, to get from one paved path to another.

The walking path is restricted to pure walking path with stepping stones and the signs indicate riding would be prohibited if it was possible. With the carry strap, the weight starts out almost unnoticeable, but the shape and length is still a little awkward. Ideally there would be a way of carrying the scooter with some type of back pack, with the scooter vertical from head height to the top of ones legs, in the right arrangement, a 12kg backpack is quite manageable.

The Unagi is ‘urban mobility’, not an off road scooter. The smoother the surface, the better. However, some cautious use on dirt or other unsmooth surfaces is also possible. While there were parts of the trail where even if a mountain bike was permitted, it, like the Unagi, would need to be carried, and carrying a mountain bike is considerably more awkward.

This means there are places you can go with the Unagi that are impractical with a mountain bike, just as the reverse also applies, and although there were paths I was surprised that the Unagi could be ridden on, there are many places the Unagi must be carried or walked where a mountain bike could be ridden. Nothing is optimum for everything, but the Unagi is more versatile than I expected.

Range: The “15.5 Miles” Is The Optimistic Maximum, The Minimum is 5 Miles (8km).

Unagi quote that the model one can managed 15.5 miles on as single charge, but they do say this is on flat surfaces, and when using a single motor. This could be possible, but I have the dual motor for the very reason that I need to also ride up hills. So What is the range under those circumstances?

I just had a ride today with a distance of 5.8km. The ride was far from flat, and I was using dual motors. Yet when I had finished, the scooter showed 3 of the 5 indicators of battery power, so I assumed I still had around 50% of charge remaining. Wrong! I set out on another ride, where this ride would end with a down hill section, so if the battery did run low, I could still make it home. Of course, this meant the ride started with steep uphill sections that the scooter would not even manage in single motor mode. I set out and just 1km into my second ride, the scooter started repeatedly emitting a series of 3 loud beeps, and the battery indicator was now showing empty. Just 1km after showing 3 bars! I switched to single motor and managed to travelled the the much flatter, but still slightly uphill distance of around 500 meters to the start of the down hill section, to the sound of those incessant beeps, having successfully travelled a total of (5.8 + 1.5=) 7.3 km in total. Was there another 0.7km in reserve? I cannot be sure as for the remaining 1.1km I was able to coast, or most of the time be using regenerative braking. Regenerative braking was insufficient to stop those annoying beeps. So far, my longest “round trip” ride has been less than 5km, and it is possible that 7k will be all I need, but it is important to realise just how low the actual range can be.

Beyond the Model One: The Model Eleven.

Quest For Perfection.

Unagi have announced a forthcoming new model, the ‘Model Eleven’. Eleven as in turn it up to eleven.

This new model eleven adds suspension, a swappable battery which allows for extending range, and connectivity with an app that provides security, it is getting close to perfect as a scooter. Oh yes, and there is optional A.I. and sensors for intelligent safety and ‘rider assist’.

It is however the close to a dream scooter, with the only limit being it is even heavier.

With swappable batteries, there is hope for a lighter batter in future, and it the battery is carried in a backpack, then the scooter would separately already be lighter to carry.

Mystery or Possible Unintended Scam With The Unagi Model 11.

Price at $1,690/$1,990
Same page, actual price $2,490/$2,790

Right now, pre-ordering a model eleven just looks wrong. Unagi as a company has a good reputation, and it is possible that any scam taking place is accidental.

There is however, a something strange about pre-order pricing of the model eleven at this time, with conflicting price information.

The indiegogo page has two different prices:

  • A competitor analysis at $1,690 (w/o ADAS) or $1,990 (with ADAS)
  • Pre-order price at US$2,490 (w/o ADAS) or US$2,790 (with ADAS).

Strange. On their own competitor analysis, the higher price would not be competitive with the “Boosted Rev” and “Segway Ninebot Max”. This pricing converts to AUD$3,915, and if this is the new correct price, and the comparison, has not been updated for a significant price increase, then that is incredibly expensive at 4x what I paid for the Model One E500.

I have been following this page for over a week now, and during that time, no orders have been recorded.

I reached out to Unagi for clarification as to why the two different prices, and was simply given a link to the web page. The mystery of whether there has been a significant price increase since the competitor analysis, there is an error, there is currently a premium being charged to discourage more pre-orders, or there are additional items included with the crowdfunding that are not clearly communicated, remains a mystery.

Last Mile ‘Personal Mobility’: Segway, Bike Or Scooter Or??

The Choices.

I had been interested in ‘last mile’ transport for some time, intrigued by ideas from the Segway, Electric unicycles, through to electric scooters. I have tried riding a Segway and found it workable, but it is large and heavy for a ‘last mile’ solution, and despite the intrigue, I have always been nervous about electric unicycles, despite that I see they are still promoted in 2022, it is the electric scooters that have seemed the best mix of these more novel ‘last mile devices.

Then there is the electric folding bike. Interestingly, a folding electric bike can be lighter than an electric scooter, plus those larger wheels mean they can tackle more terrain, more speed and make more sense for a longer ride. Between bike and scooter? Not such a clear choice.

Legality.

It seems electric bikes are legal almost worldwide, whilst all other electric options including scooters are less universal. Electric bikes in many markets (USA excepted) are designed to be pedalled normally, with the electric motor only providing ‘assistance’. Some bikes available outside the USA can be configured for pedal free riding, either to allow for future rule changes, the bike to be used in a different country, or for riding on private property.

I am based in Australia which as a mix of state based laws, and in the state of NSW electric scooters are currently only legal on private property, although I expect this will probably change during this (2022) year, it is not yet clear what the future rules will be. In the neighbouring states of ACT and Queensland, scooters are legal, and the rules are very practical. By contrast, the state of Victoria is trailing scooter laws that are not practical. The laws being trialled basically prohibit scooters for last mile commuting, as they permit only ride share rental scooters from specific scooter operators.

Electric Scooters.

A useful comparison review.

There are a wide range of electric scooters, but for commuting, light weight becomes important. Three scooters stand out:

  • Xiaomi M365 (US$695 non Pro) (Pro AUD$949)
    • Award winning, lightweight good value scooter over a number of years .
  • e-twow
    • Better value than Unagi, similar weight, suspension, less hill climbing.
  • Unagi Model One E500 (US$990) or (AUD$1,695)
    • Praised for design, materials, build quality, light weight and hill climbing power.
    • Costly for the limited range provided.
  • Unagi Model Eleven.

Review after review praises the Unagi, but questions merit of paying for the design and materials.

Folding Electric Bikes.

Electric Unicycles.

Somewhat remarkably, many electric unicycles are quite heavy. Many are heavier than lightweight folding bikes or scooters. They are quite compact, and watching the experts, perhaps it is possible to reach the level where stepping on and off is as controlled as it could be on a scooter, but it would take time. The ultimate capabilities of the unicycle are impressive. If you watch videos of experienced riders, it becomes clear it is possible to tackle terrain not possible with a scooter, but the ability to move at walking speed, the way you can with just one foot on the scooter, is just not there with a unicycle.

Conclusion.

Sill Pending.