'Ginger' revealed as personal transportation device

After nearly a year of speculation and waiting, inventor Dean Kamen Monday unveiled the product formerly known as "Ginger" -- the Segway personal transportation device.

Most closely resembling a scooter, the Segway is a two-wheeled personal transportation system that is "driven" by the body's movements, according to a press release issued by Segway LLC, the company that will sell the device. Kamen is chairman and chief executive officer of Segway LLC. Using a technology called "Dynamic Stabilization" that is designed to simulate the way the human body moves, Segway will move forward when its rider leans forward and back up when its rider leans back, the company said. Dynamic Stabilization is achieved by having gyroscopes and tilt sensors that monitor the rider's center of gravity around 100 times per second, the company said.

The device will be no larger than the average human body and will be able to go anywhere a pedestrian can walk, the company said. Segway LLC will manufacture three initial models of the device -- the i-series, the e-series and the p-series. The i-series will be designed for range and speed across different terrains, the e-series will be used in business applications and will be able to haul up to 75 pounds beyond the rider's body weight and the p-series will be targeted at densely populated areas, Segway said.

The company expects that the device will first be used in commercial settings such as manufacturing plants and warehouses. The Segway device is expected to be available to consumers in late 2002, the company said.

The low-end model will be priced at US$3,000, with the business-class device retailing for $8,000, according to a report at the Time magazine Web site, http://www.time.com/. Company officials were not immediately available to confirm price.

Massive speculation about Segway was touched off in January after multiple stories claimed that the Harvard Business School Press had paid $250,000 for a book about the device [See "Ginger: Shrouded in secrecy," Jan. 12]. Stories at the time cited such tech heavyweights as Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs and Amazon.com Inc.'s Jeff Bezos as both investors and boosters of the then-unannounced product.

Despite finally getting a glimpse of the much-hyped device, reaction has been mixed. Opinion at the open-source news and discussion Web site Slashdot (http://slashdot.org) was largely mixed Monday morning with some discussion participants gushing over the Segway's possibilities, while others reacted with choruses of "Is this it?"

One user, posting under the name "Jabbo," had mixed feelings.

"Being a bicyclist, I am partial to light, fast, cheap transportation. The Segway appears to be none of these. It is expensive, a brute-force solution to a non-problem ... That's why I, at least, am underwhelmed," Jabbo wrote.

But Jabbo was not dismissive either, noting that for some uses and contexts, Segway is "not earth-shattering, but pretty neat, alright."

One Slashdot user who was more positive about the device was "CaptainCarrot," who noted Kamen's past devices were useful to handicapped users and said that the Segway might be another such product.

"The disabled, such as my 5-year-old son who suffers from Cerebral Palsy, are most often not retarded, but due to their limitations are indeed unable to operate a scooter or a car. IT may be just the thing for them. (And let me tell you, at $3000 it is priced very competitively with ordinary motorized wheelchairs.)," he wrote.

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