Skip to comments.'IT' Revealed. Self-Balancing People Mover (My title: Electric Scooter with gyros)
Posted on 12/02/2001 5:00:19 PM PST by Timm
IT' REVEALED; 'SEGWAY' SELF-BALANCING PEOPLE MOVER, BILLED AS ALTERNATIVE TO CARS
After months of hype, an inventor is set to unveil an electric scooter being billed as an environmentally friendly alternative to cars.
Dean Kamen's long-awaited, secret invention, the Segway "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy," he tells TIME on the eve of his product's unveiling.
Kamen imagines them everywhere: in parks and at Disneyland, on battlefields and factory floors, but especially on downtown sidewalks from Seattle to Shanghai. "Cars are great for going long distances," Kamen says, "but it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-lb. piece of metal to haul their 150-lb asses around town."
In the future he envisions, cars will be banished from urban centers to make room for millions of "empowered pedestrians" - empowered, naturally, by Kamen's brainchild, reports John Heilemann in next week's issue.
The invention is set to be unveiled Monday morning during ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA.
The Segway is a self-balancing people mover - powered by batteries and controlled by tilt-sensors and five solid state gyroscopes - that looks like a rotary lawnmower. The magic is in the balancing act ð no matter how hard you try, it won't let you fall.
For the past three months, Kamen allowed TIME behind the veil of secrecy as he and his team grappled with the questions that they will confront - about everything from safety and pricing to the challenges of launching a product with the country at war and the economy in recession.
There is no denying that the Segway, previously code-named "IT" and "Ginger," is an engineering marvel, reports Heilemann, who rode on the machine many times. Developed at a cost of more than $100 million, Kamenis vehicle is a complex bundle of hardware and software that mimics the human bodyis ability to maintain its balance. Not only does it have no brakes, but also no engine, no throttle, no gearshift, and no steering wheel. And it can carry the average rider for a full day, nonstop, on only five cents' worth of electricity.
Kamen explains how the Segway works: "When you walk, youire really in whatis called a controlled fall. You off-balance yourself, putting one foot in front of the other and falling onto them over and over again. In the same way, when you use a Segway, thereis a gyroscope that acts like your inner ear, a computer that acts like your brain, motors that act like your muscles, wheels that act like your feet. Suddenly, you feel like you have on a pair of magic sneakers, and instead of falling forward, you go sailing across the room."
As Kamen and his team were working on the IBOT wheelchair ð a six-wheel machine that goes up and down curbs, cruises effortlessly through sand or gravel, and climbs stairs - it dawned on them that they were onto something bigger. "We realized we could build a device using very similar technology that could impact how everybody gets around," he says. The IBOT was also the source of Gingeris mysterious codename. "Watching the IBOT, we used to say, ÈLook at that light, graceful robot, dancing up the stairsiÐso we started referring to it as Fred Upstairs, after Fred Astaire," Kamen recalls. "After we built Fred, it was only natural to name its smaller partner Ginger." With Ginger, as with the IBOT, Kamen explains, "the big idea is to put a human being into a system where the machine acts an extension of your body."
With the Segway, Kamen plans to change the world by changing how cities are organized. To Kamenis way of thinking, the problem is the automobile. "Cities need cars like fish need bicycles," he says. Segways, he believes, are ideal for downtown transportation. Unlike cars, they are cheap, clean, efficient, maneuverable. Unlike bicycles, they are designed specifically to be pedestrian friendly. "A bike is too slow and light to mix with trucks in the street but too large and fast to mix with pedestrians on the sidewalk," he argues. "Our machine is compatible with the sidewalk. If a Segway hits you, itis like being hit by another pedestrian."
Ordinary consumers wonit be able to buy Segways for at least a year, a consumer model is expected to go on sale for about $3,000, Heilemann reports. For now, the first customers will be deep-pocketed institutions such as the U.S. Postal Service and General Electric, the National Parks Service and Amazon.comÐ institutions capable of shelling out $8,000 apiece for industrial-strength models.
TIME also takes a hard look at the question of whether this product will really make it in the consumer market. "The consumer market is always harder," Intel chairman Andy Grove, who also rode the Segway, told Heilemann. "But when you think about it, the corporate market is almost unlimited. If the Postal Service and FedEx deploy this for all their carriers, the company will be busy for the next five years just keeping up with that demand."
In case any of the inventor's claims sound familiar, it's because they mirror the claims made by hopeful city planners over the past three decades. Any minute now, we've been told, cities would wake up and ban cars from city centers and make everyone walk, ride a bike, or take a bus.
Whatever it is you think of such planning schemes, the important point for present purposes is that the reason these things have not yet happened is not that planners said, "yeah, it would be a really great idea to close off city centers to car traffic. The problem is people will just keep falling off their scooters. If only there were a way to prevent that..."
We already have bikes, busses, running shoes, and scooters. Now that we have slow scooters you can't fall off of-- for only $3,000 plus electricity and maintenance--I wouldn't expect things to change very much.
Is there anyone out there interested in an alternative to sitting in a car in a city? Try a plain old bike. Despite what you might think, cycling on a plain old bicycle on public roads is safer per hour than driving a car. No, you can't carry a whole lot on one, but if you just want to get yourself from A to B without parking and other problems you probably already have an alternative in your garage.
Considering my car only weighs 3200 lbs and I get to listen to the radio while driving, makes perfect sense to me to haul my tail around town in it rather than your enviromentally friendly scooter. Can it go over 80? Wouldn't want it anyway. Just another enviro-whacko friendly device brought to you by the 'save the ozone' nuts
Yup. And where I live, temps were in the single digits last weekend. Plus, I have three kids and a wife. I can just see us trailing along like a herd of ducks on our scooters.
Like it or not, cities are always going to need car-sized streets, because there are plenty of uses for cars and trucks, and only one use for a scooter.
Actually, I was more excited about his other invention which makes steps and other obstacles accessible to handicapped people. I could definitely see all sorts of advantages to supplying abunch of those at the street sides of many buildings INSTEAD OF spending tens of billions of dollars buuilding ramps. Or the super-expensive "kneeler" buses which I think are used somewhere in Florida which cost about $100,000 more than a regular bus, just so a guy in a wheelchair can roll in. Obviously it would have been cheaper to buy every handicapped a free taxi ride for the rest of their lives.
The article is at post #43, along with 125 replies from earlier today.
I'm not saying the hype is deserved, but you can be more intelligent in your criticism than labelling anything you don't like as "Leftist."
You MIGHT be correct that some nutjobs will use it to harp on their pet issues, but that's not the same as saying the inventor saying we should revert to a pre-industrial age.
BWAHAHAHA!! There is something idiotic here, all right--it isn't the invention, but your commentary. Obviously you don't know anything about the process of inventing and marketing. NOTHING "goes right on the market and starts selling right away". Since he already has a working model that people have ridden, it's hard to see how it can be a hoax.
Guess this shmo Kamen hasn't thought out what would happen to somebody riding the 'segway' (sic) at International Falls with 4" of snow and ice on the ground @ 10 below with 40mph wind gusts.