Is it a marketing exercise for a firm desperate to show it’s environmental and innovation credentials, or is it a clever and viable new city transport option that could be the way of the future? What are we talking about? Segway-GM’s PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility Vehicle) ” a two-wheeled, two-seat electric car designed to drive on its own and automatically avoid collisions.
Weighing in at just 600 pounds and powered by lithium ion batteries, the PUMA can travel 35 miles on a single four hour charge costing about $.35-.50 cents (depending on whose details you believe). Like the Segway scooter, the vehicle balances on two wheels with the help of gyros and is cutting edge in many of the fly by wire controls and smart electronics used. And like the Segway scooter, early adopters are likely to be niche applications ” university, government and tourist campuses, traffic free towns as found in middle European states and possibly more environmentally focused city states like Singapore. But we would like to see how the two wheeler copes with the ice and snow of a Chicago winter (not to mention the horrendous potholes!) before hailing this as the transport system of the future. However in the right environment we could see cities semi-pedestrianizing parts of the city centers for walking, cycling and vehicles of this type. Segway has produced and delivered some 60,000 electric scooters since inception in 2002, so they know a thing or two about lithium ion battery supply and management technologies. With GM’s backing, and a new administration keen to develop green initiatives one can forgive a little hype in their promotional material. The vehicle is a fully functioning prototype at the moment and not set to go on sale before 2012 when the cost is predicted to be 25-35% of the price of a small automobile.