Ford has invented what may be the world’s lamest transformer. It’s a regular four-wheel car that transforms into a four-wheel car with one wheel missing, plus a unicycle. And somehow, the inventor has made the unicycle even less practical than usual by equipping it with that car wheel.
The recently-granted patent is a great example of big companies’ habit of patenting every little idea they have, and it will almost certainly never get made. But that shouldn’t stop us ridiculing it. The "multi-modal" vehicle is supposed to be a solution for city dwellers, or a recreational toy. To use it, you remove a wheel from your car, then bolt on the "bicycle" (as the one-wheeler is constantly referred to in the patent document) onto this newly-freed car wheel. Then, using a built-in electrical motor and some fancy Segway-esque balancing tech, you speed off on your travels.
But why? The patent suggests that a driver may park in a less-congested out-of-town car park and ride the rest of the way to the office. This daily procedure, one presumes, involves removing and reattaching your car’s dirty wheel, twice, while dressed in a freshly-pressed shirt. "The bicycle may be more easily and quickly maneuvered in the more congested areas," says the patent application. To which you might respond, "More easily than what?" How easy is it to steer a single car tire, with its wide, flat surface? Not very, as anyone who has tried to roll a wheel in a straight line will know.
As you might expect from a car maker, the patent’s blurb tries to sell this abomination by pointing out the impracticalities of a regular bicycle:
"Packaging bicycles in or on a vehicle during transportation creates difficulties, especially with relatively small vehicles," it says. "However, the bicycle disadvantageously consumes valuable interior space of the vehicle and can disadvantageously move within the vehicle during unexpected acceleration or deceleration." One wonders if the inventor thought this through. Compared to removing a wheel from your car, then hefting what amounts to half an electric motorbike onto it while trying to bolt the whole thing together, removing a quick-release wheel from your bike so it can be tossed in the trunk seems like a small task.
But it gets better. "Bicycles can alternatively be stored on an exterior of a vehicle during transportation," says the patent. "However, these after-market racks are expensive to purchase. Assembly of the after-market rack to the vehicle and assembly of the bicycle onto the rack is also disadvantageously time consuming."
More or less expensive than a specially-designed electric unicycle? More or less time-consuming than assembling that unicycle? Also, where do you think the unicycle section is stored in your car? That’s right. The patent’s illustrations have it in the trunk. It can be coupled to the car’s suspension system, but it still takes up space.
There is, however, one concrete advantage to leaving your car up on a jack, with one wheel missing. It’s much harder to steal. Unless this invention ushers in a new era of thieves cruising the city upon their own hard-to-steer unicycles, searching for cars missing a wheel so they can quickly bolt on their own and make off with the vehicle.