In a new abstract, a group of students at the University of Tokyo have envisioned a new mobility concept known as "Soft Mobility." The idea is to use soft, lightweight, and inflatable materials to construct mobility solutions. As proof of concept, the students created POIMO, an inflatable scooter-slash-e-bike that can fold up and fit into a large backpack.
The abstract demonstration for POIMO, an acronym that stands for "portable and inflatable mobility," was published on the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)'s digital library as part of "Extended Abstracts of the 2020 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems." It is the result of work from Hiroki Sato, Young ah Seong, Ryosuke Yamamura, Hiromasa Hayashi, Katsuhiro Hata, Hisato Ogata, Ryuma Niiyama, and Yoshihiro Kawahara.
As seen in the video here (sorry, embedding was disabled), POIMO is made of thermoplastic polyurethane and pairs up with a skateboard-like four-wheel electric platform. The Digital Object Identifier (DOI) link to the paper about POIMO is currently broken, but according to Gizmodo UK, the inflatable portion requires roughly 10 PSI to hold up against the weight of a person. The steering column, body, and seat inflate in a short period of time with an electric air pump, but it could theoretically be blown up by mouth or manual pump. Once inflated, it attaches to the electric powertrain and is ready for action. When the rider arrives at his or her destination, the POIMO can be deflated, folded up, and easily stored in a small bag such as a backpack. The video doesn't specifically show it, but it seems the platform folds up, as well.
Using an inflatable body on an e-bike could have numerous direct benefits. A byproduct of the foldable and portable material is a reduction in weight, which could then incrementally increase electric range of the bike. Using less metal could also reduce the cost of the bike and make it more accessible. And most importantly, using a soft "frame" could significantly reduce the number of injuries caused by scooter and e-bike collisions.
For now, this is just a concept, but it seems extremely odd that somebody would need to carry around a portable inflator just to use this thing. That kind of eliminates the ease of use and convenience. So, instead, a production version would need to build the inflator into the platform. It already has a source of power, so this seems like a viable fix.
Read more on the concept at ACM.org.