Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Ginger's True Identity

Details regarding the "dream transport machine", known by the code name, Ginger, much talked about on the internet since the beginning of this year, have been released. It's an electrically operated two-wheeler, and not a hovercraft, or a helicopter that you strap on your back, or hydrogen engine propelled car that it was first rumored to be. It's so ordinary that some people were said to be quite disappointed, but what's "unordinary" about it is the way it works. You ride the machine by standing on it, and all you have to do to change directions and slow down or speed up is adjust the handle and the way you lean, and, what's more, it doesn't have brakes. According to the inventor, Dean Kamen, to move forward or backward, the rider just leans slightly forward or backward. The sensors on it monitor the rider's weight at a frequency of 100 times per second, calculate the change, and automatically computes the speed and direction. The maximum speed is about 12.5 miles per hour, and the batteries can be charged with ordinary household current. At an average speed of 12 miles/hour, one could travel for 15 miles after charging it for six hours.

The official name is the "Segway Human Transporter." They have already received some inquiries from groups and companies that recognize the possibilities for this machine. The U.S. Postal Service and National Park Service, and the city of Atlanta are planning to test it early next year. It also seems that there are companies that are thinking about using them to transport employees around within their facilities. This means that there will be a decrease in the number of trucks used by mail carriers, and, as far as public use, it will substitute for cars in short distance travel, so they think it will help decrease exhaust fumes. Co-founder of Apple Computers, Steven P. Jobs, is reported to have said, "It (the Segway) is equal in importance to the birth of the computer."

I've seen people on T.V. riding the Segway. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, being able to change directions simply by shifting your body, but I'd have to stop and think if someone asked if I'd actually use it in Tokyo. Since it's supposed to be used on the sidewalk, that would mean bringing traffic congestion to the already congested areas of Shibuya, Shinjuku and Harajuku. And, also, it's already dangerous with the bicycles and skateboards on the sidewalks, so spare us from yet another "moving hazard." As far as my using it personally, considering taking care of my health, I feel I should avoid any further cutting back on "walking." Even if we can't drive because of traffic congestion, there are still buses, subways and trains. After all, it weighs over 60 pounds, so you can't very well carry it up a pedestrian bridge, and people living in upper levels of apartments and condos would have to deal with this problem. The price, too, is not exactly "reasonable"--they're thinking of pricing them at around $3,000.

In this way, this new invention probably won't be an "explosive hit," but it probably would be useful in parks, amusement parks, factories, expos, and exhibits. I thought for a minute about the "Seicho-No-Ie Main Temple where there are a lot of slopes," but I changed my mind--It's probably important to "climb the slopes there on our own feet."

- MT

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