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Long-Anticipated High-Tech Invention ‘Ginger’ Unveiled

By Zachary Z Norman, Crimson Staff Writer

Dean Kamen at last unveiled his latest invention—a high-tech scooter—on “Good Morning America” yesterday after months of media speculation about the invention that some have said “will change the world.”

Code-named Ginger, the Segway Human Transporter is the world’s first self-balancing scooter and allows a person to travel about 12 miles per hour. The scooter can run up to 15 miles on a single electric charge; to steer a Segway, a rider simply needs to shift their body weight and the machine will sense the change and respond almost instantaneously.

The media frenzy surrounding Ginger has been building since last January when Harvard Business School Publishing (HBSP) revealed that it paid a $250,000 advance for a book about Ginger without even knowing what the invention was.

With yesterday’s official unveiling of Kramer’s invention, HBSP representatives said they are excited about Segway’s future.

“We think it is really intriguing,” said HBSP corporate communication director Sarah McConville.

The book about the scooter, to be written by Steve Kemper, will focus on the process of innovation in general and Segway’s development specifically, McConville said, and will be released next year.

Ginger is just one in a long line of Kamen inventions, including the first portable dialysis machine and the same type of heart stent implanted in Vice President Richard B. Cheney. The inventor also created a wheelchair that can climb stairs.

Kamen only revealed the nature of Ginger to a few investors and other high-tech luminaries, such as Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos. Last spring, Jobs described Ginger as having the potential to be as big of a deal as the personal computer and said that “cities will be built around it.”

Speculation about what Ginger would be ran rampant on many websites and discussion boards. Many thought that Ginger might be a type of hovering scooter or run on a Sterling engine, a highly efficient engine that potentially could run on a fuel such as hydrogen.

Because of gyroscopes and tilt sensors that monitor a rider’s movements 100 times per minute, it is almost impossible to fall off the scooter. Segway is also designed so that when a rider steps off the scooter it immediately stops.

Although Segway is designed to be primarily used on pavement, the scooter can also travel through water and stones.

A rider can also turn around on an incline.

Because of its versatility in traveling short distances, many companies have already ordered units for their employees. The United States Postal Service plans on trying to use Segways for mail carriers, and Amazon.com will use Segways to allow workers to move around quickly in warehouses. Many large corporations were provided with early viewing of the invention, so that they could place orders in advance.

Currently, only an industrial version of Segway will be mass-produced; a consumer version, which will cost around $3,000, will follow in late 2002.

Many proponents of Segway see it as potentially being useful in crowded urban areas, particularly in East Asia.

Despite predictions by some that Ginger would revolutionize personal transport, others are skeptical of such pronouncements.

“This is not new,” said Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez ’70, Bok professor of urban planning and public policy at Harvard.

Some students also predicted that the scooter would have a limited impact on city life.

“People have been getting along fine with bikes. I don’t know what impact it might have,” said Oliver Soong ’04.

—Crimson staff writer Zachary Z Norman can be reached at znorman@fas.harvard.edu.

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