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GM and Segway have teamed up to develop a new prototype vehicle as part of their efforts to "reinvent the automobile," the companies say, but it's not clear that their new vehicle will do better than the original Segway personal transport.
Unlike the original self-balancing two-wheeler, the new vehicle will be enclosed and designed to transport two people seated side by side, rather than one person standing up. It will also be equipped with GPS, wireless technology, and sensors, which could eventually allow an onboard computer to take over some driving tasks.
The vehicle is designed for the city dweller, particularly those who don't bother owning a car because of the twin frustrations of parking and traffic congestion. GM expects this market to grow as people continue to move from the country into cities, and these problems get worse. The vehicle won't be allowed on the highways, since it will be limited to a top speed of 35 miles per hour. It will also have a range of about 35 miles. It's supposed to cost one-fourth as much as a conventional car to operate. The companies haven't disclosed the price of the vehicle, but they do have a catchy name: PUMA, for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility.
Of course, it's hard not to be skeptical. The original Segway transport was supposed to transform cities. Instead, many cities banned them, and it's been relegated to niche applications. It's given mall security guards a fun, and undoubtedly extremely useful, toy, for example. But will the redesign, and the added automation, make the PUMA more successful?
As with the first Segway, the question is, if you want a small vehicle that's easy to park, why not just buy a bike or a scooter? If you don't want to drive, and you live in the sort of city that this is targeted to, why not just take public transportation? Why risk a ride in an automated vehicle? The prototype, pictured in New York, looks pretty vulnerable next to the city's taxis.