Thursday, June 25, 2009

Who needs airbags?

Wouldn't it be nice if all vehicles on the road had sensors and computers that could sense when another vehicle was going to pancake it in the next five seconds? A new Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (PUMA) two-wheeled vehicle recently introduced by General Motors and Segway Inc have introduced a novel electric vehicle that literally depends on that premise.

Puma is small, lightweight and has minimal safety equipment. What it does have: two wheels, two seats and a brain. What it doesn't have: airbags and most traditional safety devices (they add too much weight).

Popular Mechanics articles and science fiction novels have proposed similar ideas for years - vehicles would drive themselves based on tracking technology (based today on GPS technology and a vast communications transponder network). Roaming deer, joggers and pedestrians would be safe from drowsy drivers and drunkards. Vehicles would communicate with each other and allow a regulated flow of traffic.

The PUMA prototype can reach speeds of up to 35 miles-per-hour and ventures up to 35 miles on a single charge thanks with its lithium-ion battery. The pod uses Segway's proprietary two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual-electric motors.

PUMA echoes of the Camper Lotus Personal Commuter concept of 2006. Similar technology was used on the battery-driven I-Bot Transporter back in 2000 and gasoline-powered gyroscopic Garavaglia Monowheel of 1904.

Kind of reminds me of doing wheelies and spins in the spare wheelchair at church when I was a kid (here's a kid I took under my wing). About the same time my parents upped our insurance policy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


I'd love to power up one of these in the backwoods near our home with biodiesel from the grease vat behind Qdoba. These bikes can crawl up just about anything without leaving much of a trace. Lots of torque, less noise, fuel efficiency and true two-wheel drive put this high on the wish-I-had-it-but-can't-afford-it list.

The early "Trail-Breaker" off-trail bikes had a catchy "Goes Anywhere" motto and "go everywhere ... do everything" catch phrase. (Side Note: Great motto - I worked on helping the Jeep® brand trademark the "Go Anywhere, Do Anything™" slogan a few years back while working at BBDO-Detroit. This is the bike for everyone but Superman - the MK3 brochure proudly stated, "Ride one and believe. The only thing it doesn't do is fly."

Turns out Rokon has been building diesel-powered 2WD bikes since 1999 when they produced 20 for special duty in Mexican mines. It was either a Lister or Petter engine. Another Scotish company is producing a diesel bike called the Ecorider.

The bodacious brute above was shown off at the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottowa in 2008.