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Hublex: a custom fit for industrial mobility

Hublex: a custom fit for industrial mobility

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe



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). This configuration also self-centres the wheels and lowers the platform.

 

A close up of the motor in contact with the rim’s internals.

"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).

Levy 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. One particular limiting factor is their weight and width. We worked with large accounts such as Aéroports de Paris and Alcatel Lucent and one requisite was that the gyropod should not be wider than 40cm to be carried up narrow staircases on industrial sites or to use escalators, because of the bollards that limit their access in most airports".


According to Lévy, the weight (non-portability) and width limitations of Segways make the running costs escalate, as industrial sites now need to provision individual units for each floor level to be accessed. The fleet may also be doubled just for the sake of availability, during battery charge times. According to the CEO, Segways was more focused on the B2C market, hoping to serve all purposes at once (commuting, recreational, industrial use) by pushing a product without really investigating into the specific requirements of each market.

"Our specific battery design ensures 24/7 availability of the gyropod. And because our solution is lightweight and more energy efficient, we can use proven NiMH technology which is more rugged than Li-ion batteries and can be safely shipped or stocked" completed Lévy.

Starting in January and February 2016, the startup will run a pilot trial at Aéroport de Paris, with between 7 and 10 vehicles shared across 55 users with different profiles and responsibilities. With over a 100 gyropods already pre-ordered, the CEO is confident it will get the funding to bring its gyropod to full scale production.

The final R&D project was recently funded by SATT Paris-Saclay (a local technology transfer accelerator) for an amount of 300,000 euros. While the IP and patents belong to Université Paris-Sud, Hublex has exclusive licensing rights to industrialize the technology. In exchange of its investment, SATT Paris-Saclay will get a cut of the royalties.

Hublex is now actively looking for investors to finalize the industrial and commercial development of its gyropod, hoping to secure one million euros within the next six months. For industrial use cases, Lévy thinks a leasing business model will be more attractive, offering 24/7 maintenance services as a package to large sites.

The CEO ambitions to become the European leader of personal electromobility for the last mile on industrial estates, with gyropods manufactured in France. Five to six years down the line, Lévy hopes to enter the stock market and possibly expand its offering to consumers to grow beyond industrial markets, possibly with a lighter version just under 10 kg.

 

Hublex’ CEO Jonathan Levy, stepping on a working prototype.

Beyond electromobility, Hublex’ ingenious motor configuration could find use cases in robotics, potentially displacing many 3-wheeled implementations. The motor itself was custom designed and built so to withstand high radial loads (the Hublex is qualified to support 120kg), so in the future, the motors alone may justify a new line of business for the company.

Visit Hublex at www.hublex.com

Visit the SATT Paris-Saclay at www.satt-paris-saclay.fr

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