Ginger Unveiled--Its a Scooter!

By Bill Machrone  |  Posted 2001-12-03 Print this article Print

Ginger, or "It" is a personal transportation device--an electric motor scooter--unveiled today on Good Morning America.

New York, December 3, 2001--Inventor Dean Kamen this morning unveiled his invention, variously known as "Ginger" and "It," ending a full year of speculation. He demonstrated the device on ABCs Good Morning America. Was It worth the wait? It depends on what your definition of "It" is. An electric scooter is a bit of a disappointment to those who were hoping for a Back-to-the-Future hoverboard or a Stirling engine-powered device that would vastly reduce gasoline consumption. Kamen himself has tried to minimize anticipation. A statement on his companys Web site claimed that the rumors and speculation had far exceeded the device itself. Gingers official name is Segway. The rider stands between two wheels on a platform, and grasps a T-shaped handlebar. Inventor Kamen says you only have to "think" about which way you want to go, but the machine senses changes in your balance and takes them as directions. Segway has a range of 15 miles on a single battery, weighs around 60-70 lb., and will cost around $3,000 when it hits the market. The models used by GMA anchors Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer were limited to 12 MPH, but Kamen hinted that the scooter was capable of speeds two or three times higher. Gibson and Sawyer had no trouble maneuvering the devices, despite never having seen them before. Spotters trotted alongside, but were unnecessary.
Kamen is best known for his inventions in the medical field, especially in the area of administering medicines and dialysis. He invented the first wearable infusion pump, a home dialysis machine, an arterial stent, and an astounding gyro-stabilized, microprocessor-controlled wheel chair, the iBOT. This latter device, currently under clinical trials, is a four-wheel-drive wheelchair that can traverse mud and sand, climb curbs and stairs, and actually raise up and maneuver on two wheels, balancing just as surely as we do on two legs.
The technological breakthroughs in iBOT, along with patents filed by Kamens company, DEKA Research and Development, first raised the speculation that Ginger was a personal transportation device. A sketch on the first page of Kamens patent application, "Personal Mobility Vehicles and Methods", shows a young woman riding a two-wheeled scooter--with side-by-side wheels instead of the usual fore and aft arrangement, very much like Segway. Segway depends heavily on microprocessors for its operation. It has to react to balance shifts before a person can even perceive them, as well as to uneven terrain, compensating with gyroscopes and rapid, yet subtle, inputs to the wheel motors. Ginger Initial shipments of Segway will be to industries with large warehouses, such as, and to the Postal Service and police departments, where they will be tested to see if they can reduce the wear and tear on feet and make mail carriers and patrol officers more effective. Commercial availability wont come until the end of 2002, but the anticipated price of Segway puts it firmly into the realm of toys for the wealthy. Will it ultimately revolutionize transportation? Let the speculation begin.
Bill Machrone is vice president of technology at Ziff Davis Publishing and editorial director of the Interactive Media and Development Group. He joined Ziff Davis in May 1983 as technical editor of PC Magazine, became editor-in-chief in September of that year, and held that position for the next eight years, while adding the titles of publisher and publishing director. During his tenure, Machrone created the tough, labs-based comparison reviews that propelled PC Magazine to the forefront of the industry and made it the seventh-largest magazine in the United States. He pioneered numerous other innovations that have become standards in computer journalism, such as Service and Reliability Surveys, free utility software, benchmark tests, Suitability to Task ratings, and price/performance charts. Machrone also founded PC Magazine Labs and created the online service PC MagNet, which later expanded into ZDNet. In 1991, when Machrone was appointed vice president of technology, he founded ZD Labs in Foster City, California. He also worked on the launch team for Corporate Computing magazine, was the founding editor of Yahoo! Internet Life, and is working on several other development projects in conventional publishing and electronic media. Machrone has been a columnist for PC Magazine since 1983 and became a columnist for PC Week in 1993.

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