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Scooting Into the Future

December 4, 2001



It's startling that something that looks so simple took years of hard thought, and $100 million, to create. But that, perhaps, is the nature of many great inventions.

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It's premature to put Dean Kamen's "IT," now officially known as the Segway, into the "great" category. This one-person motorized scooter is coming out with 21st-century hype that Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Edison couldn't have dreamed of.

The remarkable gadget has to be viewed through that media haze. But it's hard not to be impressed by what you see: a vehicle that will respond to its operator's slightest body shifts to start, stop, turn, etc. - that'll go 17 miles before recharging, and can even negotiate snow and ice.

The built-in gyroscopes, computers, and motors produce stability and sensitivity that make the little two-wheeler "an extension of your body," as Mr. Kamen likes to say.

His New Hampshire-based firm, DEKA Research, already has some eager customers, including the US Postal Service, which will try out a heavy-duty version of the machine.

But the Segway's horizon is much grander than mail routes, according to those who've been anticipating its unveiling. They foresee cities eventually being planned around such conveyances. Gone will be car pollution and gridlock.

But how many people will pay $3,000 for the coming consumer version? And what kind of safety issues will regulators come up with?

Still, we can't wait to try one.

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