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.