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Column: IT will not replace cars anytime soon

So I set my alarm for 7 a.m. Monday to see the premiere of the invention that supposedly will revolutionize the way we move humans from one place to another across our noble planet. The mystery “IT” invention (code-named Ginger) finally showed itself to the world on Good Morning America yesterday. And I’m no Isaac Asimov or George Orwell, but somehow I don’t think this thing is going to be “bigger than the Internet” as some have speculated.

Inventor Dean Kamen, who has created some wonderful products in the medical field such as a portable insulin pump and a briefcase-sized dialysis machine, has put all his efforts in changing the way Americans get from one place to another over moderate distances with the Segway. Its appearance is that of a motor scooter which has both wheels in front. It’s apparently also filled with some revolutionary technology. The equivalent brainpower of three desktop PC’s helps keep the operator balanced, and the truly incredible factor is how you operate this thing.

As Kamen told Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer to “think forward,” they began to move forward as if on command. This machine has apparently replicated the way humans shift their weight to begin walking, and has translated that into how the Segway is controlled.

What I want to know is, if this thing is as steady and safe to ride as we have been told, then why were two Segway employees following Gibson and Sawyer around like Secret Service agents whenever they tried to get away?

With a current top speed of only 12 mph, the Segway isn’t exactly the fastest thing on two wheels. But let’s put into place the theory that this new invention will revolutionize the way we get from one place to another. Let’s assume that huge urban centers like Manhattan allow Segways on its broad sidewalks, and it becomes a better way to get from home to work for people traveling less than, say, eight miles. It still weighs 65 pounds, which means you can’t exactly pick it up and carry it up the steps to your office. And you still have to brave the elements to get to work on a snowy day, a horror people driving in cars can eliminate with their heaters. And how reliable are these things in bad weather conditions like rain and snow?

I’m not saying that Ginger is the next coming of the Edsel, as apparently the technology created to make it work is nothing short of incredible. And the ability to go pretty good distances on pennies of electricity is great for the environment and could have some urban planning ramifications like Segway-only lanes on streets and wider sidewalks. I couldn’t help but think how great this thing would be to get to and from class for people who live on or near campus. But we are still Americans, and we still love our cars.

The automobile has a place in our culture on a par with God and apple pie, and forsaking our fossil- fuel burning portable shelters is probably going to take more horsepower than Segway has in its current form. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I always laughed at people on motor scooters. It’s going to take more than tremendous hype and great technology to assimilate the Segway into our everyday lives.

  • Collin Sherwin is a senior majoring in political science.