This was posted on The Drudge report earlier this morning, I am told. It's
now been removed except for the headline. Could this be IT? We'll find out
tomorrow. If it is, I don't think it's world-changing, but it's pretty nifty.
'The Big Idea is to Put a Human Being into a System Where the Machine Acts
an Extension of your Body'
New York -- 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
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 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 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, ╚Look at that light, graceful robot, dancing up the stairsiđso 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.comđ 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."
"IT flies, IT zooms, it's gonna change everything"
Max More, Ph.D.
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
President, Extropy Institute. http://www.extropy.org <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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