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.
Yep, something like this would be a serious hazard to pedestrians. I'd want to see a serious anti-collision, anti-hazard system (e.g. can't plow into a pedestrian or a show window or fall off a curb) integrated into any machine this massive before letting it into any area where it will mix freely with pedestrians and bicyclists. There's a reason why motor vehicles aren't allowed on sidewalks and their drivers are licensed.
You just wait and see. This guy is like the guys who invent all the perpetual motion machines that never work.
Something like this sounds like a dream to pit crews. I remember when CD players were Huge dollars. DVD players were very expensive only a few years ago. now you can get one for less than $200.
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."
This is idiotic. This is a snow job.
Yeah right! When its 20 below zero I'm gonna hop on my 3000 dollar scooter and ride to work, praying that I don't freeze to death or get robbed while scooting through the downtown! That quote above is some major league HYPE!
Very narrow niche:
Yeah. Theyd weigh 20,000 pounds, theyd be filled with boiling water, and theyd be very dangerous.
Reminds me about what the CEO of IBM said about computers, when first asked about them. He said that he wasn't interested, since at their multi-million dollar cost, there would never be more than half a dozen computers in the country. When the first IBM PC's came out they were on sale for about $2000, in 1980 dollars, much more than the price of this machine. Today you can get far more advanced machines for about $200, used.
A reasonable assumption is that a high tech machine becomes 90% cheaper every decade. That would make this thing $300 in 2010 and $30 in 2020. I would think that you could get some market penetration at that price. The reasons against comparing this gadget to a bike are in the article. I would think that there would be a large potential market for this device among those unable to walk more than a few steps, the folks you see driving around on those motorized wheelchairs. Those things are not very agile, whereas apparently with this thing, they could go anywhere a person could walk or climb. I'm going to be very interested in this gadget.
BTW I wonder if these motor vehicles will need to be licensed and registered.
Add about 50 or 60 H.P. and you would be back to the *Good Old Days*.
Trust me. You'll never see the segway (sic) for those prices then, if it's even still available.
Before it is manufactured? that's a good trick!
I have a big problem believing with the bold thingies.
about 20 pounds, right.
Kamen's next great invention...
Cities without rain, sleet, high wind or snow.
Or perhaps a big bio dome to cover all our cities.
No doubt this technology is pretty smooth and will be exploited to it's max by the US Military and others but I dont see it changing the cityskape quite yet.
Now that perked the old Cajun's ears up ;^)
I'm not sure where you got your engineering degree, but I have a suggestion. If you don't want one, DON'T BUY ONE!!
And how do you get into work, if you can't walk more than a few steps? How about getting onto your 300 dollar walking machine and going through the lot.