'Ginger' Unveiled as Segway Human Transporter
UPDATED After news about a revolutionary transportation device code-named Ginger leaked to the Internet in the form of a book proposal last January, speculation and rumors spread like wildfire throughout the technology sector. Everyone was eager to learn about the ultra-secret "IT" from inventor Dean Kamen that graced the sights of only a select few, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Almost a year later, Kamen has completed the necessary patent filings and is now ready for the world to learn about his creation, officially dubbed 'Segway'.
The much-hyped device is sure to be a disappointment to those expecting a hydrogen-powered hovercraft, but the Segway has greatly impressed the few who have had the chance to ride. Very similar in design to the scooter-like drawings included in Kamen's patent filings, the Segway can travel up to 12 miles per hour and has no brakes, gearshift, or engine. The rider controls the 65-pound, single-axle Segway in a standing position in a way that seems almost magical at first.
By simply leaning forward, you glide forward; lean backward and go back; twist your wrist and turn on a dime. But what is truly amazing is how the Segway does the balancing for you. Ten microprocessors and five gyroscopes are monitoring and calculating a rider's center of gravity over 100 times a second. It is virtually impossible to tip over once the device is activated. This balancing act allows the Segway to function exactly the same over any surface, including ice, and even uphill.
The complex software and hardware in the Segway instantaneously sense a rider's movements, seemingly causing motion by thought alone. "Think forward. Think back," Kamen told the New York Times in his demonstration.
The Segway gets its roots from Kamen's IBOT, an extremely advanced six-wheeled wheelchair capable of climbing stairs. In fact, the Ginger code-name stems from IBOT's nickname Fred Upstairs, after Fred Astaire.
Under the hood, the Segway is just as impressive. Two batteries power the device, which can travel 15 miles on a six-hour charge, and recharge using any electrical outlet. Dual circuit boards send commands to two motors, each able to act independently in case of hardware failure. Rubber diaphragms reside under the standing platform and activate the Segway's balancing system when a rider steps aboard. For security, the on-off key is protected with 128-bit encryption.
While Kamen has high hopes for the Segway -- going so far as to say it could change the way cities are built -- many remain skeptical. Cars have become a cornerstone of current society in a world largely afraid of change. But Kamen contends that cars are not designed for cities and bicycles are too large to mix with pedestrians. He is hoping early adoption by law enforcement and postal employees will convince local and state governments to allow the motorized devices on sidewalks.
The National Park Service and United States Postal Service plans to test the devices early next year, with corporations such as Amazon.com and GE planning to use them for lowering the time it takes to traverse warehouses. Although the heavy-duty corporate version will run upwards of $8,000 USD, a consumer version of the Segway, priced at $3,000 USD, is expected to arrive in about a year.
But to some, even $3,000 is much too pricey for a device that, upon first impressions, resembles a glorified electric scooter.