December 2nd, 2001


Ginger has arrived...

Also known as Segway. Yes, it's just a scooter, of sorts... but what a scooter. Will people use it? It's a question of usability, usablity, usability, and price. How will people will react to their first test drive... or will they even want a test drive once they hear how much it will cost them to buy the Segway?

The really interesting thing about the Segway is the use of a self-balancing system to control the vehicle. From what I see, you lean in to speed up, lean back to slow down, and basically step off to stop. Based on inventor Dean Kamen's earlier work with stairclimbing machines for the handicapped, the usability is likely to be such where even your grandmother can go for a ride.

The real question is whether it will replace walking in inner city situations, because ultimately that is what this vehicle is all about. Is it fast? Is it safe? Is it affordable? Does it work a long time on a single charge? Is it a good substitute for taking the car and fighting to get parking? Will it get you easily around that car blocking the sidewalk, over that pothole, or up the hills of San Francisco?! Time will tell. It was said from the outset that Ginger would "force urban planners to redesign cities in its wake". All I can surmise is that the usability of this device is so good that some would consider taking such drastic measures to make cities Segway friendly. Then again, they haven't done this for bicycles in most cities of the world, so there is a huge challenge here. This device will either fail or succeed not on the streets of cities, but on the sidewalks.

The first real look at the device and how it performs will be on Good Morning America tomorrow. Expectations have been set (hopelessly?) high - if they are going to succeed, they *MUST* make a big impression on the audience. I just might be doing some early morning viewing...

*** Note - Just read the full story on the Segway at Time Magazine. ***

How do you use it? Here is an excerpt...

"Just lean forward," Kamen commands, so I do, and instantly I start rolling across the concrete right at him.

"Now, stop," Kamen says. How? This thing has no brakes. "Just think about stopping." Staring into the middle distance, I conjure an image of a red stop sign--and just like that, Ginger and I come to a halt.

"Now think about backing up." Once again, I follow instructions, and soon I glide in reverse to where I started. With a twist of the wrist, I pirouette in place, and no matter which way I lean or how hard, Ginger refuses to let me fall over. What's going on here is all perfectly explicable--the machine is sensing and reacting to subtle shifts in my balance--but for the moment I am slack-jawed, baffled."

Wow. Truely sexy technology and the ultimate user interface. Kamen deserves awards bigtime.

Price - $3000
Battery life - It can carry the average rider for a full day, nonstop, on only five cents' worth of electricity.

Yeah... this is the Real Thing.

Walking and falling...

This struck me as an interesting parallel:

"When you walk, you're really in what's 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, there's 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."
- Dean Kamen

"You're walking. And you don't always realize it,
but you're always falling.
With each step you fall forward slightly.
And then catch yourself from falling.
Over and over, you're falling.
And then catching yourself from falling.
And this is how you can be walking and falling
at the same time."

- Laurie Anderson