For the past three months, Kamen 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.Time's full report is online here.
There is no denying that the Segway, previously code-named "IT" and "Ginger," is an engineering marvel, reports Heilemann, who rode on the machine many times. 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, but also 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.
Kamen explains how the Segway works: "When you walk, you're really in what's called a controlled fall. You off-balance yourself, putting one foot in front of the other and falling onto them over and over again. In the same way, when you use a Segway, there's a gyroscope that acts like your inner ear, a computer that acts like your brain, motors that act like your muscles, wheels that act like your feet. Suddenly, you feel like you have on a pair of magic sneakers, and instead of falling forward, you go sailing across the room."
The same Kamen who was downplaying the hype a few months back has gone into full-tilt sales mode now:
With the Segway, Kamen plans to change the world by changing how cities are organized. To Kamen's way of thinking, the problem is the automobile. "Cities need cars like fish need bicycles," he says. Segways, he believes, are ideal for downtown transportation. Unlike cars, they are cheap, clean, efficient, maneuverable. Unlike bicycles, they are designed specifically to be pedestrian friendly. "A bike is too slow and light to mix with trucks in the street but too large and fast to mix with pedestrians on the sidewalk," he argues. "Our machine is compatible with the sidewalk. If a Segway hits you, it's like being hit by another pedestrian."So there you have it. Sounds nifty, but will it change the world?