Fwd: Dean Kamen's machine: Segway aka Ginger aka It

From: Wade T. Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Mon Dec 03 2001 - 12:59:20 GMT

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    Subject: Fwd: Dean Kamen's machine: Segway aka Ginger aka It
    Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001 07:59:20 -0500
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    ---------------- Begin Forwarded Message ----------------



    Here "it" is: the inside story of the secret invention that so many
    are buzzing about. Could this thing really change the world?

    Sunday, Dec. 02, 2001

    "Come to me!"

    On a quiet Sunday morning in Silicon Valley, I am standing atop a
    machine code-named Ginger--a machine that may be the most eagerly
    awaited and wildly, if inadvertently, hyped high-tech product since
    the Apple Macintosh. Fifty feet away, Ginger's diminutive inventor,
    Dean Kamen, is offering instruction on how to use it, which in this
    case means waving his hands and barking out orders.

    "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.
    It was Arthur C. Clarke who famously observed that "any sufficiently
    advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." By that
    standard, Ginger is advanced indeed.

    Since last January it has also been the tech world's
    most-speculated-about secret. That was when a book proposal about
    Ginger, a.k.a. "IT," got leaked to the website Inside.com . Kamen had
    been working on Ginger for more than a decade, and although the
    author (with whom the inventor is no longer collaborating) never
    revealed what Ginger was, his precis included over-the-top
    assessments from some of Silicon Valley's mightiest kingpins. As big
    a deal as the PC, said Steve Jobs; maybe bigger than the Internet,
    said John Doerr, the venture capitalist behind Netscape, Amazon.com
    and now Ginger.

    In a heartbeat, hundreds of stories full of fevered theorizing gushed
    forth in the press. Ginger was a hydrogen-powered hovercraft. Or a
    magnetic antigravity device. Or, closer to the mark, a souped-up
    scooter. Even the reprobates at South Park got into the act, spoofing
    Ginger in a recent episode--the details of which, sadly, are
    unprintable in a family magazine.

    This week the guessing game comes to an end as Kamen unveils his baby
    under its official name: Segway. Given the buildup, some are bound to
    be disappointed. ("It won't beam you to Mars or turn lead into gold,"
    shrugs Kamen. "So sue me.") But there is no denying that the Segway
    is an engineering marvel. Developed at a cost of more than $100
    million, Kamen's vehicle is a complex bundle of hardware and software
    that mimics the human body's ability to maintain its balance. Not
    only does it have no brakes, it also has no engine, no throttle, no
    gearshift and no steering wheel. And it can carry the average rider
    for a full day, nonstop, on only five cents' worth of electricity.

    The commercial ambitions of Kamen and his team are as advanced as
    their technical virtuosity. By stealing a slice of the $300
    billion-plus transportation industry, Doerr predicts, the Segway Co.
    will be the fastest outfit in history to reach $1 billion in sales.
    To get there, the firm has erected a 77,000-sq.-ft. factory a few
    miles from its Manchester, N.H., headquarters that will be capable of
    churning out 40,000 Segways a month by the end of next year.

    Kamen's aspirations are even grander than that. He believes the
    Segway "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy."
    He imagines them everywhere: in parks and at Disneyland, on
    battlefields and factory floors, but especially on downtown sidewalks
    from Seattle to Shanghai. "Cars are great for going long distances,"
    Kamen says, "but it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use
    a 4,000-lb. piece of metal to haul their 150-lb. asses around town."
    In the future he envisions, cars will be banished from urban centers
    to make room for millions of "empowered pedestrians"--empowered,
    naturally, by Kamen's brainchild.

    Kamen's dream of a Segway-saturated world won't come true overnight.
    In fact, ordinary folks won't be able to buy the machines for at
    least a year, when a consumer model is expected to go on sale for
    about $3,000. For now, the first customers to test the Segway will be
    deep-pocketed institutions such as the U.S. Postal Service and
    General Electric, the National Parks Service and
    Amazon.com--institutions capable of shelling out about $8,000 apiece
    for industrial-strength models. And Kamen's dreamworld won't arrive
    at all unless he and his team can navigate the array of obstacles
    that are sure to be thrown up by competitors and ever cautious

    For the past three months, Kamen has allowed TIME behind the veil of
    secrecy as he and his team grappled with the questions that they will
    confront--about everything from safety and pricing to the challenges
    of launching a product with the country at war and the economy in
    recession. Some of their answers were smooth and assured; others less
    polished. But one thing was clear. As Kamen sees it, all these issues
    will quickly fade if the question most people ask about the Segway is
    "How do I get one?"


    ----------------- End Forwarded Message -----------------

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