Segway Teams with GM for Electric Two-Wheeler for Two

Struggling General Motors Corp. is hoping that one answer to people's green transportation needs lies in a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle it jointly developed with Segway Inc.

GM and Segway Tuesday unveiled a prototype of their P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility), which officials said will be a safe, clean alternative to regular four-wheeled, gas-guzzling vehicles.

Segway is the maker of the Segway Personal Transporter which Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak is famously known for using.

"We are excited to be working together to demonstrate a dramatically different approach to urban mobility," said Jim Norrod, CEO of Segway, in a statement. "There's an emotional connection you get when using Segway products. The Project P.U.M.A. prototype embodies this completely through the combination of dynamic stabilization, seamless drive-by-wire controls, and sophisticated battery systems to complete the connection between the rider, environment, and others."

Unlike its predecessor, the Personal Transporter, or PT, the P.U.M.A. accommodates two riders and lets them sit in seats similar to those in an automobile. According to Segway, the new vehicle is capable of traveling at speeds of 25 miles-per-hour to 35 mph. The vehicle can be driven between 25 miles and 35 miles on a single charge, it added.

The company noted that the PUMA uses lithium-ion batteries and should only cost about 60 cents in electric costs each time it is recharged.

"It's great to see advanced technology applied to one of our most basic needs -- the need to get from here to there," said Dan Olds, principle consultant with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "While this particular product may or may not actually hit the market, it is a demonstration platform for a number of new technologies, from advanced batteries to drive-by-wire."

Segway did not disclose the projected cost of the PUMA, or when it may be generally available.

Olds noted the decision to help develop the vehicle was a good one for General Motors, which has been embroiled in financial turmoil that prompted the federal government to make moves to bail out the automaker.

"While the extent of GM's involvement is hazy at this time, these vehicles are quite a ways away from tooling down the street and thus won't contribute to GM's top or bottom line anytime soon," added Olds. "That said, it's a good idea for GM to at least have a hand in the development of cutting edge transportation products like Segway."

About a year and a half ago, a research team at MIT introduced what they dubbed the City Car, a foldable, stackable two-seater vehicle. The frame of the car is designed to fold in half so the cars can be stacked up eight deep in one city parking space. GM sponsored the MIT lab where the car was developed.

And last November, a Stanford University researcher toldComputerworld that for the struggling U.S. auto industry must regain its role as a U.S. technology leader and start developing self-driving cars. Sebastian Thrun, a professor of computer science and director of the artificial intelligence laboratory at Stanford, said the U.S. lags behind Europe, Japan and South Korea when it comes to finding ways to use robotics to make cars safer, more energy-efficient and easier to use.

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