by Sam Livingstone
The Unibox could only ever come from Japan. An exceptionally intelligent but also bizarre and radical design that looks more like a wheeled storage system for a utility room, than something that would be parked in the garage every night. But some of the technical and design features of this car are very interesting.
One of the most obvious features are the rectilinear, plastic (polycarbonate) bolt-on panels that would be available in different colours and in aluminium. These exterior panels sandwich an aluminium truss frame with the inside panels of the car and also form the storage space for a variety of intriguing additional features to the car. Two of these features are small motorbikes! Honda being the largest motorbike manufacturer in the world, as well as a car manufacturer, is well placed to develop these two types of exceptionally compact machines.
These electrics bike are called the Caixa and Mobimoba and can both be folded to be 800mm long and 170mm wide, enabling them to be stored in the recess within the Unibox' door frames between exterior and interior panels. An aside of interest is that the Mobimoba is the first motorbike in the world to feature a cup holder....
As well as having two motorbikes onboard, the Unibox has a powered shopping cart which also unfolds out of a side panel storage area and features real time navigation aids so that even when shopping the user canít get lost!
Other innovative technical features include milliwave radar and CCD cameras located around the vehicle to prevent collisions by measuring the distance from surrounding cars and linking up with roadside systems for obstacle avoidance. A bank of LCD monitors sit in place of a rear view mirror showing a panaramic view to the rear of the car picked up by the cameras. And a head up display projects required information onto the the windscreen for the driver.
The flat wooden floor, leather seats, aluminium exposed structure and minimalist digital interfaces create an office-like environment. With only a side mounted joy stick control being used to pilot the car, this is an exceptionally non-automotive interior which can be seen through the transparent panels from outside to further the 'architectural box on wheels' look.
Other innovative features of the car include an external pedestrian airbag and six small aluminium alloy wheels (the undriven four at the rear being particularly small) with damper units built into the spokes.
As the most extreme and somehow the most Japanese concept at the show, the Unibox deserves a second look. And when you look closely, many of the ideas behind the design bare significant relevance to the future vehicles being developed not just for the Japanese market.