REMEMBER 'It', the Internet meme of about a year ago? 'It', aka 'Ginger', was some cool and exciting device that Dean Kamen, eccentric genius inventor, had secretly demonstrated to a bunch of techno-big wigs and money men, including Andy Grove and Steve Jobs. Kamen invented a gyro-stabilized wheelchair that has made quite a splash, and speculation was, based on patents Kamen had submitted, that 'It' was a gyro-stabilized scooter.
'It' has now been revealed, and it is a gyro-stabilized scooter. It's named the Segway. [groan] It will be formally introduced to the public on ABC's Good Morning America today, Monday 12/3. Price is reported to be about US$3000. Goes 15 miles an hour, and said to be steered by 'reading' the user's body movements. Runs on 8 cents worth of electricity a day.
Cool. Now what? Is this thing a solution looking for a problem? Will cities really be re-designed around this gadget, eliminating cars, as some have suggested?
I dunno. I foresee a bunch of issues. It would be pretty nasty to ride in the rain, for one. Difficult to go shopping with: how can you carry a trunkload of groceries or dry cleaning or Christmas presents? Or will there be little Segway package-carriers, like native bearers, bopping along behind you, like an urban safari? Now that would be cool.
Other hurdles: I don't think these things will fight well against cars. They're said to be okay with pedestrians, but I still expect problems on crowded streets. They won't work in suburbia, where distances are too great. They weigh about 65 lbs each, so it would be difficult for suburbanites to, say, take the train into the city, then ride their Segway within the city. Finally, if people use these instead of walking, America's obesity problem will only get worse.
Early sales seem to be directed to businesses with large warehouses, the US Post Office, and Federal Express. From there, I don't know how the Segway will go, or what place it will find in society, if any. It's a very cool technology, but is it useful? But you know, when lasers were invented in the mid-1960's, that technology, too, was criticized as a 'solution looking for a problem'. Now look. Lasers are everywhere. How many lasers do I have in my house now? Well, there's the CD player, the DVD player, the LD player, my garage door (device to prevent door from closing while someone is walking through it), a laser pointer, a LaserJet printer, the DVD and CDRW in my PC, and that's just off the top of my head. It took a while for the laser to find its place in society, but now it's everywhere.