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News

The waiting is over and the secret revealed

Georgia Institute Of Technology : 03 December, 2001  (New Product)
'Ginger,' or 'IT,' is the Segway Human Transporter, a two-wheeled, one-person, battery-powered scooter whose inventor claims will revolutionize transportation and cityscapes much like automobiles did in the early 20th century. The Segway is the latest invention from Dean Kamen, a prolific 'idea man' who holds roughly 100 U.S. patents. His other inventions include the heart stent used by Vice President Dick Cheney and an innovative wheelchair that can climb stairs.
'Ginger,' or 'IT,' is the Segway Human Transporter, a two-wheeled, one-person, battery-powered scooter whose inventor claims will revolutionize transportation and cityscapes much like automobiles did in the early 20th century.

The Segway is the latest invention from Dean Kamen, a prolific 'idea man' who holds roughly 100 U.S. patents. His other inventions include the heart stent used by Vice President Dick Cheney and an innovative wheelchair that can climb stairs.

Kamen said the Segway travels at a top speed of about 17 miles per hour and requires little electricity. His Manchester, N.H.-based firm DEKA Research and Development will oversee production of the machine.

The City of Atlanta will be one of the early test beds for the machine. The city plans to use several dozen starting in February in an effort to reduce emissions and traffic congestion, according to press reports. A 65-pound, $3,000 consumer model won't be available for at least a year.

Several Georgia Tech researchers from a broad range of fields have expressed interest and curiosity about The Segway. Among them is Senior Research Scientist Michael Chang, an air-quality expert in Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
'[The Segway] is a marvelous machine, and I can envision it becoming another legitimate mode of transportation,' Chang said. 'In the short-term, it seems that any approach that can result in less vehicle miles of travel, or less trips in an automobile, are an environmental improvement.'

Another researcher with interest in The Segway is Associate Professor Larry Frank, an expert on smart growth and director of the SMARTRAQ travel-survey study at Georgia Tech.

'Nearly 83 percent of all trips are for non-work purposes, and more than 50 percent of all trips are less than three miles in distance,' Frank said. 'A device that can travel at the speed of a bike under electric power while only requiring the space of a pedestrian offers significant opportunities to not only reduce auto usage and improve air quality, but it establishes the ability to once again develop vital urban centers at a human scale.'

However, Chang urges caution in discussions of The Segway and the need to redesign cities.

'Only in recent years have planners and citizens alike rediscovered the value of building communities at the scale of the pedestrian. And only now are we beginning to see some of those new 'old' designs being built,' Chang said. 'A piece of technology that can extend the range of pedestrians, not wholly
unlike cars do, but just over a larger range, puts us back in that sprawl sort of mentality again.'

Technology should not compensate for poor urban design, Chang said, and the long-term benefits of Ginger to the environment remain unclear.

'Sometimes our best intended solutions only make the original problem worse,' he said. 'Nevertheless,
I remain optimistic and hope that this new invention will help in both the short and long terms.'

Some Tech faculty members still have questions about The Segway. One is Associate Professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, director of the Architecture Program within Georgia Tech's College of Architecture. She said she remains somewhat ambivalent about The Segway and the lofty claims of its inventor.

'I was sort of hoping for jetpacks,' Dunham-Jones said. 'Basically, I'm 100 percent supportive of anything that reduces automobile dependence, but until I know more about Ginger, I'm not convinced just how successful it will be at that goal.'

For instance, is The Segway the equivalent of a bicycle as far as whether it rides on the street or on the sidewalk? If it is, then it probably wouldn't be much help in a city such as Atlanta, which has only minimal bike lanes, she said.

'The question of whether it rides on the street or the sidewalk raised further questions for me about safety,' Dunham-Jones said. 'I'd also like to know whether it can be carried onto a bus or MARTA. I would hope it could. That would be key to increasing its usability.'

Another researcher with questions about The Segway is Assistant Professor Terri Laurenceau, an industrial design instructor within Georgia Tech's College of Architecture. She remarked that there are some concerns about the machine that relate to scooters in general: For example, concerns about storage, security and its aesthetics.
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