Is this the Chevrolet Corvette of tomorrow?
When I saw the headline to this article in BusinessWeek, I thought that it was an April Fool's Day leftover but in fact it is the Real Thing. General Motors, which appears to be in the midst of gently persuading the world that bankruptcy may be a reasonable management direction for itself, has teamed with Segway, builders of the world's most innovative yet overpriced and useless scooter, to develop a two-wheeled urban vehicle, code-named PUMA, for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessiblity. A concept only at the moment, the 300 pound vehicle would run on dual electric motors powered by lithium-ion batteries, reaching 35 mph (56 km/h) top speed and having a range of 35 miles. It appears to be a Super Segway but what is quite startling is that the PUMA concept includes electronics designed to keep these things from crashing into each other, and into pedestrians. The GM VP in charge claims that no airbags or other safety features would be needed--I guess this presupposes that there will be no Hummers or other GM cars on the road when this comes to pass. Given the state of GM's present finances, this might be a likely scenario anyway.
On the other hand, if we did get rid of all the dangerous and threatening traditional cars, we could just simply ride our bikes safely--BlackAdder, my commuting bicycle, can probably carry more shopping than the GM/Segway vehicle pictured while using up less material resources to build and not need any kind of battery. On the other hand, due to its poor-quality Sprocketboy engine, it is not terribly fast, so what we really need is the revival of the Vector HPV.
photo by Jeff Wills
This was the first human-powered vehicle to reach speeds of over 60 mph (96.56 km/h) and versions of it were used for racing in the 1980s. I remember reading a copy of Scientific American from those days and thinking this was the coolest thing ever--a bullet-shaped tricycle! Of course, the obvious drawback is that you would be flattened by a car pretty fast if you were zooming along the open road at full speed. Secondly, at full speed you would be melting under that canopy. A few of them were apparently offered for sale at some for-the-times startling prices but with today's carbon-fibre technology it should be easier to build a fairing than it was then. And perhaps solar collectors would allow for a powered ventilation system to keep you from exploding with heat. You can read more about it on Jeff Wills' page here, and as well you can look at the original 1983 patent for the Vector.
The Tandem Vector was even more amazing. In 1980 two riders did a demonstration of energy efficiency and took the two-seater on California's Interstate 5 highway. They rode 42 miles (80.78 kms), averaging 50.5 mph (81.27 km/h) . Without lithium-ion batteries either...perhaps GM and Segway could just invest in raising U.S. fitness levels, improving the roads and then building Vectors for us to ride in. This would be worth a bail-out package, in my opinion.