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At this point, nobody knows exactly what impact the Segway will have on the world. Kamen admits that the machine can never completely replace the car, because it doesn't have near the same capabilities. It only goes about 12 miles per hour, and it has to be hooked up to household electrical current for about six hours to store up enough juice for a 15-mile journey. Obviously, this sort of machine wouldn't do you much good on a cross-country road trip.
But Kamen does believe the Segway is a superior option for getting around a city. Cars take up a lot of room, so as soon as you have a bunch of people driving in a constrained area (like a city street), you get heavy traffic jams. It's also a hassle to park cars, and they are very expensive to maintain. All in all, a car is not an optimal machine for short trips in a crowded area.
The Segway is only slightly larger than a person, so it does not cause as much congestion as a car. Most likely, government regulations will authorize it as a sidewalk vehicle, so commuters will be able to zip through crowds, skipping the roadways completely. Just like scooters and bicycles, the vehicles would most likely be involved in a good number of pedestrian accidents. But the Segway's supporters say it's only about as dangerous as walking, since the vehicle moves at relatively slow speeds.
If the vehicle is as successful as Kamen hopes, cities will construct special Segway paths. Many critics suggest this is highly unlikely, noting that there just isn't room in more crowded cities for a new form of transportation.
While it won't get people to their destinations at top speeds, the Segway will probably zip by slow-moving, bumper-to-bumper traffic. Once they get to their destination, riders can carry their Segways inside with them without worrying about parking. And there's no need to stop by the gas station, as the vehicle runs on ordinary household electricity.
Segways are also good machines for getting around crowded warehouses, where tight corridors make it difficult to use bulkier vehicles. People may find them useful for getting around large pedestrian areas, such as airports or amusements parks. There is really no limit to how people might use the vehicle. The Segway can fit in most places you might walk, but it will get you there faster, and you won't exert much energy.
The question is: Will people be willing to shell out the $3,000 to $8,000 for the new machines, or will they keep using their feet, cars and bicycles? Kamen believes a lot of people will want the machine, after they are familiar with it and see what it is capable of. To this end, he is initially targeting government agencies and large corporations, not the consumer market. The U.S. Postal Service, the National Park Service, General Electric and other organizations have signed on to field test the vehicles over the next year. By the time Kamen launches the consumer model in late 2002 or early 2003, he hopes the Segway will have already established itself as an indispensable machine.
In the next section, we'll run down the Segway product specifications. For more articles about the Segway, check out the links page.
- Top speed: 12.5 miles per hour (20 km/h). This is about three times typical walking speed.
- Weight: 80 lbs (36 kg)
- Width: The Segway's footprint (how much space it covers on the ground) is 19 by 25 inches (48 by 63.5 cm). This makes the Segway about the same width as an average size person, so it doesn't take up much space on the street. The platform is 8 inches (20 cm) off the ground.
- Weight capacity: 250 pound (110 kg) person with 75 pounds (34 kg) of cargo.
- Range: About 17 miles (28 km) on even ground, with a single charge. Taking uneven terrain into account, Segway's designers estimate the vehicle has a range of 11 miles (17 km) on a single charge.
- Motors: Each of the Segway's wheels is driven by a 2-horsepower electric motor that produce no emissions.
- Transmission: The two-stage transmission has a compact 24:1 gear ratio. It uses a helical gear assembly that significantly reduces noise. (See this page for information on how transmissions work.)
- Computer: The Segway's brain is made up of two circuit boards, housed in the vehicle's chassis. The circuit boards, which boast a total of 10 microprocessors, normally work together, but each can function independently in the event of a computer problem. If one breaks, the other circuit board will slow the vehicle down gradually to avoid an accident.
- Power: The Segway is powered by two rechargeable batteries. Segways come with either nickel cadmium (NiCd) or nickel metal hydride (NIMH) batteries. The batteries are constantly monitored by a circuit board, which communicates any performance problems to the central brain. The batteries can be recharged with household AC current. Dean Kamen estimates a Segway would cost somewhere around 5 cents a day in electricity bills.
- Sensors: The Segway uses five gyroscopes and a collection of other tilt sensors to keep itself upright. Only three gyroscopes are needed -- the extra sensors are included as a safety precaution. The Segway has an additional weight sensor built into its platform to tell the computer when a rider has stepped on.
- Brakes: The Segway doesn't have a braking system. To stop, the rider stands upright without leaning forward or backward, and the vehicle maintains its position.
- Turning radius: Since it only has two wheels, the Segway can rotate around a single axis (the wheels turn in opposite directions). This gives the Segway a turning radius of zero.
- Wheels: The Segway wheel consists of a forged steel wheel hub with a glass-reinforced thermoplastic rim. Each wheel is secured to the drive shaft with a single nut. The tires are made of a silica compound, which provides good traction even on wet surfaces.
- Security: The Segway uses an electronic key system. The key, which looks something like a car lighter, stores a 128-bit encrypted digital code. The vehicle won't start unless the key is plugged into its port. The key can also store settings for vehicle operation. Segways include one key for "beginner mode," where the vehicle has a lower maximum speed, and one key for "experienced mode." Segway plans to offer programmable keys down the road, which well let users store particular operation settings.
- Driver interface: The Segway has a small LCD screen that tells the driver how much battery power is left and how well the vehicle is functioning. The screen displays a cartoon face, which expresses the general condition of the vehicle.
- Chassis: The Segway's sensitive electronic equipment is housed in a sturdy die-cast aluminum chassis. According to Segway, the chassis can withstand 7 tons of force.
- Control shaft: The aluminum shaft that holds up the Segway's handlebars can be adjusted to different heights. Riders can attach clips to the shaft to carry bags or other cargo.
For more information about the Segway, as well as its creator, check out the links on the next page!
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