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It's Not a Car, It's a Self-Balancing Electric Motorcycle (Video) 218

Posted by Roblimo
from the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad dept.
Two gyros under the seat keep this vehicle standing up at a stop, which is easier on the driver's legs than putting a foot down the way you do while riding most motorcycles. And no vroom-vroom sound, either. This is an electric motorcycle. The prototype you see in the video gets up to around 20 MPH, but production models are supposed to hit 100 MPH, and go as far as a Tesla S on 1/6 the juice. So little tiny batteries are all the Lit C-1 needs to drive (up to) 200 miles with the gyros spinning merrily away -- keeping the C-1 upright even in crashes, as a simulation in this Lit Motors YouTube video shows. They claim to have more than 200 pre-orders against a projected retail price of $24,000, which is not shabby for a company that hasn't made a single production vehicle so far. (Alternate Video Link)

Timothy Lord: James, we are standing next to this interesting looking vehicle here. Can you tell us a little bit about what it is?

Ryan James: Sure. So we are Lit Motors. We are a start-up electric vehicle company based here in San Francisco. This is our main vehicle, currently codenamed C-1. It is a self-balancing two-wheeled vehicle. It brings together the romance and the efficiency of a motorcycle with the safety and the comfort of a car.

Tim: Let’s talk about the hardware that’s in this vehicle here, what do you have starting from the front and kind of going back for the control electronics?

Ryan: Well, we’ve got a lot of both custom and off-the-shelf parts. This one is an earlier very low budget proof of concept prototype. So a lot of the components that are here doesn’t actually reflect what will be in the production vehicle. Some of it had to be compromised for lower price and some of it we just kind of figured out on the fly. But this is a functional proof of concept prototype—this one actually does balance at 0 miles an hour and drives up to about 20, 25 miles an hour.

Tim: What do we have as far as driving parts?

Ryan: We’ve got an off-the-shelf motorcycle wheel—it’s actually a rear wheel—and then a center-hub steering system. All of the linkages here are totally custom. The production model will have similar linkages, but made in a much more robust manner. The shell is actually steel, AKDQ steel, the same as pretty much every car on the road, and we hand-formed that. Just the start-up costs for stamps and dies, to try to stamp this out, would have been about $3 million. Rather than spend that, we spent about $10,000 and bought an English wheel, a shrinker, a stretcher, and a bead roller and just made it all ourselves—it was totally insane! It took about a month and a half of complete insanity. But we made it happen and we ended up with a hand-formed steel body.

Tim: Did you look at wind tunnel testing to arrive at the shape?

Ryan: Not yet. That is actually something that we are working on right now, quite a bit of virtual wind tunnel testing.

Tim: Let’s look at the inside of it.

Ryan: Sure. So the interior on this prototype is extremely rough. This was made to be much more of an engineering prototype, but you can see the custom carbon fiber seat that we made. We needed a seat and carbon is actually a pretty easy material to work with so you might as well make it out of that—everyone loves carbon. Off-the-shelf steering wheel, somewhat custom steering system, but the steering system is not indicative at all of what the production one will be—this one is purely mechanical. Production will be a drive-by-wire steering system which is enabled by our stabilization technology that I’ll come back to in a minute. The rest of the dash is just sort of for looks—it doesn’t really do all that much. We’ve got batteries along the floor, so lower center of gravity from that. And just behind the batteries you can see the first part of our core technology. We’ve got this right here and an identical one just behind it--these are a pair of control moment gyroscopes that form our gyroscopic stabilization system. We’re using two gyros, counter-rotating, counter-processing on actuated gimbals. That is how the vehicle is able to stay in control of its tilt or lean at all times. So what that means for the driver is: You’re in a fully enclosed vehicle, you can’t put your legs down or anything like that. You pull up to a red light and it just stands there. There are no legs that come down, nothing like that—it just stays upright. As if you’re on four wheels. That same system is actually powerful enough that in most collisions the vehicle will also stay upright. So if you’re driving along and somebody T-bones you, rather than fall over or roll or flip like a motorcycle would, it will actually stay upright and slide sideways. Just like a four-wheeled car does.

And then that also enables a drive-by-wire steering system. That means that the driver doesn’t need to know anything about how motorcycles handle, how they work, anything like that. Anyone can drive it, like if you can drive a car you can drive our vehicle. So although the vehicle has the turning dynamics of a motorcycle that is to say, it leans into turns, the vehicle takes care of all of that for you—it’s smart enough to know as you turn the steering wheel right what that means at 5 miles an hour, what that means at 50 miles an hour, what that means at 100 miles an hour. And it does all that for you.

Tim: What sort of computing power has it got in here?

Ryan: On this prototype, off-the-shelf stuff. We’re running in a LabVIEW environment. We have since moved beyond that and everything in the prototype that we’re building right now and for the production vehicle, it’s all custom boards that we designed and had fabricated, custom OS that we made ourselves and created ourselves. Yeah, everything is totally custom now.

Tim: Let’s talk about timelines, availability and price.

Ryan: Sure. So the price is going to be approximately $24,000. We are actually taking pre-orders right now on our website, litmotors.com/reserve. We’ve been taking pre-orders for the past two and a half years. We’re seeing a really, really strong response with that—we’ve sold many hundreds of pre-orders so far. And production, we are aiming to begin production by the end of this year, by the end of 2014.

Tim: One more thing, a lot of people with any kind of alternative vehicles these days, electric in particular, have, I think, a very legitimate fear of running out of fuel.

Ryan: Sure.

Tim: Talk about the batteries you’ve got in here—how long do they last?

Ryan: Yeah, sure. So some basics specs for this, these, of course, we’re still prototyping so these are best estimates: Top speed should be over 100 miles an hour, so you can take it anywhere, you can take it on the freeway. The range will be up to about 200 miles per charge. What’s really interesting about that is we’re doing that on a much smaller battery pack than you would expect. Because it’s such a small lightweight vehicle and so aerodynamic. For a comparison, a Tesla Model S the 60-kwh version of that gets a 200-mile range—we’re able to get that same range on a 10-kwh hour battery pack—so one sixth of the size.

Tim: Now you don’t have much room at the moment for groceries or a passenger back here. What’s the status of all this electronics that is going to be miniaturized quite a bit?

Ryan: Exactly, yes. So like I said this stuff is all off-the-shelf. This is oriented in here for ease of work rather than for any kind of compact package. The custom boards and electronics and everything that we’ve made thus far have already shrunk that down to about a quarter of this size. In the production vehicle, this back space will be completely open. So there actually will be room for a passenger, there will be an actual seat back here for a passenger. Or for about as much stuff as you can carry on a plane.

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It's Not a Car, It's a Self-Balancing Electric Motorcycle (Video)

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  • No (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GoCrazy (1608235)

    It's not a car.

    That's a cage. That's a car.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)
      Not only is it NOT A MOTORCYCLE! the person talking about it has never ridden a motorcycle.

      which is easier on the driver's legs than putting a foot down the way you do while riding most motorcycles.

      First all motorcycles. Not most. Second. Who the hell ever pulled up to a stop while riding and thought "Fuck. I have to put my feet down again!"?

      • Re:No (Score:5, Funny)

        by SternisheFan (2529412) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @04:31PM (#47276495)

        ... Second. Who the hell ever pulled up to a stop while riding and thought "Fuck. I have to put my feet down again!"?

        A guy I knew once told me that when he lived in Germany, he'd get very drunk every night after work, drive home on a road that he'd figured out the timing of the traffic lights so well that he never had to put his foot down even once. The only problem was he'd forget to put his foot down when he got to his destination.. So every night the homeowners knew when he arrived in the garage by hearing him and his cycle fall over. :-)

        • by Dishevel (1105119)
          That is awesome.
        • A couple of questions come to mind. "How does one backup?", and "If I need to make a U-Turn, how can I?"
        • by worf_mo (193770)

          Reminds me of a good friend of mine who after an evening spent binge drinking got on his bicycle, put both feet on the pedals (without pedaling) and tried to turn the grip on the right handlebar, thinking he was on a motorbike. At that point gravity took over and ended the show.

      • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

        by aitikin (909209) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @04:38PM (#47276567)

        Not only is it NOT A MOTORCYCLE! the person talking about it has never ridden a motorcycle.

        which is easier on the driver's legs than putting a foot down the way you do while riding most motorcycles.

        First all motorcycles. Not most. Second. Who the hell ever pulled up to a stop while riding and thought "Fuck. I have to put my feet down again!"?

        Not all. Like it or not "trikes [harley-davidson.com]" are considered and labelled motorcycles. As such, your statement is not accurate.

        Second, I know a number of people who dislike it due to weaker legs/ankle injuries/etc (and thus, are attracted moreso to the trikes, which, for the record, I HATE).

        • I used to hate trikes too, but like you say, they are the only way for a lot of older people and people with injuries to enjoy riding. Now I appreciate the vehicles for what they are.
      • Not only is it NOT A MOTORCYCLE! the person talking about it has never ridden a motorcycle.

        It is a motorcycle if the DMV* says it is.

        *... or whatever government agency is responsible for vehicle licensing.

      • To be fair, motorcycles have a rider in a standing position. I wouldn't look forward to trying to balance that thing from that reclined position with any kind of cross-wind.
        • by Xiph1980 (944189)
          If you're balancing your motorcycle by only shifting your weight around, you're doing something wrong.
          It's actually not even possible to do that, because if you shift your body to the left, the motorcycle will tilt to the right and the center of mass will be on the exact same vertical line as it was before, exactly above the wheels. You balance by steering. If you get a crosswind from the left, you'll steer to the right slightly, moving the center of mass a tad to the right, but the point of contact with t
          • by Dishevel (1105119)
            Umm. No.

            What is going on with the "Strange" way a motorcycle steers is gyroscopic precession [wikipedia.org].

            That big spinning wheel in the front of the motorcycle is acting as a gyroscope.

            • by Xiph1980 (944189)
              I could've gone into details about centrepetal forces and gyroscopic precession, but I chose not to, because it's not important from a rider's stance. Interesting from a phycisist's stance perhaps, but when riding, what matters is what forcefully steering or weight-shifting does to your bike, and to rest DocSavage64109's concerns about balance in crosswinds with a reclining motorcycle.

              Also, the gyroscopic precession effect plays a large part with big wheeled motorcycles, but plays little to no part on mo
          • Don't forget countersteering too!

        • Not on my cruiser. No standing position at all. More akin to a recliner position, if anything...
  • by khb (266593) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @03:39PM (#47275947)

    The gyos add complexity, and dropping a third wheel doesn't save that much space. See Riley's classic http://www.amazon.com/Alternat... [amazon.com] or just search for some of his existing designs.

    As a previous owner of a Sparrow, I wish these guys luck. Unfortunately, I need a three seater ...my trusty (actual) motorcycle sits idle since I've too often got to worry about hauling two kids these days.

  • by dorzak (142233) <dorzak@@@gmail...com> on Thursday June 19, 2014 @03:45PM (#47276029) Journal

    They are not as original as they claim. There was a similar concept in kit car magazines in the 90's. There is a Youtube video (Yes, it is Flash but so is the video on the story)- https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • I don't need a new car, and probably won't for a few years. But this will be my next car when I'm ready to buy one.

  • I wish I didn't wait through the advert just to hear the guy speak. What's the point of a video of a vehicle that's not moving?

  • I think I've seen that design somewhere before, but I can't remember where/when.

  • The wheels are very close to the chassis. I wonder whether the vehicle has any suspension at all.

    • by FridayBob (619244)

      The wheels are very close to the chassis. I wonder whether the vehicle has any suspension at all.

      Yeah, I saw that too. But, remember that the one in the video is only a prototype. I have little doubt that any production version will have more suspension travel. For example, I suspect that the latter will have slightly smaller wheels.

  • by fisted (2295862) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @03:55PM (#47276155)
    Everyone who ever rode a motorcycle knows very well they those things already self-balance to an impressive degree. Even if you wanted, you couldn't make one simply fall over (short of giving the handlebar a huge jerk)
    • The key to this one is that you don't need to put feet down when stopped, so it can be recumbant and fully-enclosed.

      • Motorcycles typically have very sticky tires that allow them to stop much faster than nearly any car. The downside is that they rarely last even 10,000 miles.
        • Damn. Replied to the wrong post.

          On a side note, the video mentions the final version will be drive-by-wire. In theory, such a vehicle could be fully automated, like those google cars.
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      This is incredible, really: motorcycles are much easier to balance at higher speeds. They made the most difficult part of riding a bike trivial.

      I'm curious how much mass they had to add to the bike to make it self-balance like that, and how well it balance with a 200lb rider (driver? I guess it'd be driver, since it's got a cage). And on corners, as well - presumably the gyros/inclinometer or whatever feeds the steering data.

      I want one of these without the cage and a gas motor, personally. 50mpg+ for a road

  • I like it when my brakes stop me before I slide into something.
    (I ride a motorcycle, I find riding in the rain to be unpleasant for a variety of reasons)

    • I also ride a motorcycle, and I agree that riding in the rain on downhills or over those metal construction plates can be very harrowing. Maybe the gyros will help with that to some extent.
    • by Richy_T (111409)

      Riding in the raid is a state of mind. It helps if you have a warm shower and dry towels at the end of your ride.

      If it's cold or torrential, that's a different story.

    • 4 wheels is a car. Cars have a metric shit-load of regulations associated with production, testing, warranty. Many of these are specific barriers to entry to prevent new car companies from entering the market.
      2 wheels allows them to avoid all that and build something that is ultra-light and efficient and can be brought to market. Bravo for them.

    • by FridayBob (619244) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @05:29PM (#47277033) Homepage

      I like it when my brakes stop me before I slide into something.

      Motorcycles are actually better at stopping than most cars. Ever heard of a stopee?

      (I ride a motorcycle, I find riding in the rain to be unpleasant for a variety of reasons)

      Yes, because if you manage to get your motorcycle's front wheel to slide, it usually means you fall will over. But, that's exactly one of the reasons why the C-1 is so cool: it's gyroscopically stabilized, so if it slides for whatever reason it won't fall over. In that respect it will behave much like a car.

  • Does it come with air conditioning? Wonder if you could have a two-seater?
    • Wonder if you could have a two-seater?

      Yes. The video shows a prototype with a rack of control circuitry behind the driver's seat, but near the end he mentions how they've miniaturized the circuitry enough since this prototype was built to replace it with a second seat.

    • It is a two-seater, if you can bring yourself to call that tiny bit of fabric in the back a "seat."

    • by FridayBob (619244)

      Does it come with air conditioning? Wonder if you could have a two-seater?

      See this FAQ [litmotors.com]. I was told a while back that the C-1 will also include air-conditioning, cruise-control, and even a head-up display (HUD), but I wonder how much of that will make it into the final production version. However, they also wanted to make many of its parts upgradeable, so perhaps it will be possible to add some of those bells and whistles later on. It will be possible to take a passenger, but they say you will only want to do that for relatively short distances (whether this is due to excessive ba

  • So, if you take the thing to its limits, you'd better remember to get out before the battery completely dies. Because when the gyro stops turning, you can't put your feet down (since there is a vehicle body in the way) to keep the thing from falling over.

    Not that I think the idea is a bad one in general.

    I saw a Kickstarter campaign just the other day using this concept to replace training wheels in kids' bikes (a gyro goes in the front wheel). Personally, I think it was a better idea in the kids' bike tha

    • by Whorhay (1319089)

      If you run out of battery juice the vehicle is likely to stop moving forward long before the gyro's spin down all the way. Besides which it would be trivially easy for them to implement a kill switch for motor power at some low battery level to make sure you still had enough power for control mechanisms and such.

  • by tekrat (242117) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @04:33PM (#47276521) Homepage Journal

    200 pre orders?? Screw that. The Elio has 20,000 pre-orders, and it's not built yet, has a nice low (projected) cost of $6800 and gets 84mpg. And I'd much rather have the Elio than the C-1 (although for a brief moment, I considered the C-1)... But for the long range I need, the Elio fits my requirements better.
    http://www.eliomotors.com/ [eliomotors.com]

    • by citizenr (871508) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @05:44PM (#47277165) Homepage

      they all have same thing in common - they dont exist, but take preorders

    • by FridayBob (619244)

      200 pre orders?? Screw that. The Elio has 20,000 pre-orders, and it's not built yet, has a nice low (projected) cost of $6800 and gets 84mpg. And I'd much rather have the Elio than the C-1 (although for a brief moment, I considered the C-1)... But for the long range I need, the Elio fits my requirements better. http://www.eliomotors.com/ [eliomotors.com]

      An interesting concept, and at less than a 3rd of the price of a C-1 I can see why this is a popular idea. However, the Elio is still a gasoline-driven vehicle and even if it were possible to get 85 MPG all the time, that would not even be twice as efficient as my old Honda Civic and nowhere near as efficient as will be possible with the C-1 (0.6 cents per mile). In fact, the C-1 is so much more efficient, that here in the Netherlands it could mean saving the cost difference between an Elio and a C-1 within

  • I haven't looked at the Slashdot video, but on YouTube there's no sign of it turning corners. What effect will the gyros have on that?
    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      I thought about that too but I bet that they slow the gyros as the vehicle speed increases.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      It'd have no effect. The gyro could be precessed to help turning, but it would only have a minor effect on the lean, and none on the turn. This isn't the first gyro-stabilized motorbike.
  • and its still neither a motor cycle nor a car

    slashdot your number one source to find out what was new and cool last year

  • It's all smoke and mirrors like the VentureOne, and the Moller Skycar.
  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @05:18PM (#47276947)

    The gyro would be a flywheel to store some of the power of downhills and flat pedaling, to be expended as a booster on uphills. And because a storage flywheel of this kind would at most times be at maximum speed at signals and stops on the flat, cyclists would no longer have an excuse to not follow traffic controls. Your feet could remain firmly in the pedal clips when you stop at the Stop sign.

  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@cGINSBERGarpanet.net minus poet> on Thursday June 19, 2014 @06:39PM (#47277561) Homepage

    Two gyros under the seat keep this vehicle standing up at a stop, which is easier on the driver's legs than putting a foot down the way you do while riding most motorcycles

    Seems like overkill to me. I have ridden some good sized bikes and, I mean, this was an issue for a little while, until I realized that I didn't really need to hold up that much weight. You know the bike, it has this big wheels....they can take the bike's weight, leave it on them. You don't need to take that much weight on your leg to keep stable.

    Once in motion, the bike has two big rubber flywheels that do a great job of "self balancing". Overall I think the MSF course is probably a better buy than a bike with an extra flywheel. I actually learned on my own in a parking lot before I took the course and had to break myself of a bunch of bad habits, including how I sat at a stop.

    • Being able to put feet down requires a more upright and open riding position.

      Removing that requirement enables a recumbant seating position (for better aerodynamics) and a fully-enclosed cabin. Making the cabin fully-enclosed allows for better protection from weather, better soundproofing, air conditioning, etc.

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Thursday June 19, 2014 @07:28PM (#47277887) Homepage
    Lots of sneering from motorcyclists, that's to be expected. But in fact this type of design has been attempted for many years (it's called the "feet forwards" or FF motorcycle) and the rationale for it is pretty sound: a small, efficient, personal transport that is as nimble as a motorcycle but has the comfort of a car.

    The main problem with attempts made to date has been the one of staying upright when stationary. Some designs had open sides so you could use your feet, but that obviously compromises bad-weather comfort. Others have pop-down stabilisers but that's inelegant and difficult to make work at the right moment. If this has solved that problem and truly allows an enclosed cabin, they might have actually finally done it. I think this could well have a significant market, but probably not one with existing die-hard motorcyclists. I like it; it's pretty cool and I wish them well.

    While batteries are at the energy densities they are, this size of vehicle makes a lot more sense than an SUV-sized behemoth. I've done the maths, and excellent performance and range are perfectly doable with LiPO4 technology, 20kW of power at a gross vehicle weight of 400kg. I think it definitely has a future.
    • I don't know - I think I might prefer to pay the energy penalty for the (now defunct) Aptera two seater and avoid the whole gyro thing.

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