Just because General Motors (GM) might be hurting from the recession, does not mean that the company still can't invest in R&D and pursue future technologies. The company's latest endeavor, however, is a bit of a departure from its popular SUVs and other gas-guzzling vehicles. GM is partnering with none other than Segway to develop an electric-powered, two-wheeled, two seat, urban transportation device.
GM and Segway officially unveiled a prototype of this new vehicle in New York City today, which they are calling "Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility)
." This early prototype looks an awful lot like a current Segway, but with a wider wheelbase to permit a second rider, and with added seats and a body/fairing. In fact, this early prototype isn't that much different than current Segway production models; but it is meant, however, to be a platform on which new technologies will be implemented in order to "allow people to travel around cities more quickly, safely, quietly and cleanly -- and at a lower total cost
Some of the Segway-supplied technologies that have gone into Project P.U.M.A. include: dynamic stabilization that allows the vehicle to "balance on two wheels and have a true zero turning radius
;" efficient electric propulsion that includes "regenerative braking to charge back the batteries
;" safer drive-by-wire digital controls with built-in redundancy; and even a digital dashboard that resides on a handheld device that wirelessly gets its information (such as speed, battery life, and even real-time traffic conditions)."The Project P.U.M.A. prototype vehicle integrates a lithium-ion battery, digital smart energy management, two-wheel balancing, dual electric wheel motors, and a dockable user interface that allows off-board connectivity. The result is an advanced and functional concept that demonstrates the capabilities of technology that exists today."
The prototype can travel at speeds of up to 25 to 35mph, and has a range of 25 to 35 miles between charges. The estimated time to fully charge the vehicle's Lithium Ion batteries is approximately 8 to 10 hours, and Segway estimates that it takes only about 60-cents to fully recharge the batteries. The prototype weighs about 300 pounds; although it is configured for two riders, Segway says that it could carry even more.
There is no guarantee that this vehicle will ever actually make it to the production line. GM regards the prototype as platform on which will "allow designers to create new fashion trends for cars, and to focus on the passion and emotion that people express through their vehicles while creating solutions that anticipate the future needs of urban customers
." Even if some version of the vehicle does eventually get produced, there is no official timeframe in place for when and if that might happen. In the meantime, there is only one vehicle, so don't expect to see the Woz driving one anytime soon.