If you ask some of the foremost automotive designers, transportation experts, and futurists what personal transport will look like several decades from now, they’re likely to converge on a landscape that includes vehicles that are lower-impact, intelligent and networked, and definitely more intimate and personal. But you might not be doing the driving.
At the New York Auto Show today, General Motors and Segway are embracing this idea in a two-seat electric vehicle called Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility). The prototype, says Segway CEO Jim Norrod in an early morning release, demonstrates a “dramatically different approach to urban mobility.”
In case you missed the picture above, this “car” has two wheels and looks a bit like a rickshaw missing its runner (or bicycle), crossed with a wheelchair. And it ultimately would drive itself. And nope, April Fool’s Day was last week.
“Imagine small, nimble electric vehicles that know where other moving objects are and avoid running into them," said GM’s research and development chief, Larry Burns in the release. “Now, connect those vehicles in an Internet-like web and you can greatly enhance the ability of people to move through cities, find places to park, and connect to their social and business networks.”
The project combines GM’s work with electric vehicles and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications systems with Segway’s proprietary dynamic stabilization technology. The Project P.U.M.A. prototype employs dual electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack, and “digital smart energy management” to carry two or more passengers at up to 35 miles per hour, for a respectable range of up to 35 miles.
The vehicle would ultimately drive and park autonomously, communicate automatically with other vehicles, and avoid traffic jams.
GM cites a trend toward urbanization, at the same time that cities are looking at ways to combat both congestion and air pollution. Such a vehicle might be good for those in dense cities and rapidly developing countries—if the Segway technology, lithium-ion batteries, and networking wouldn’t push the price through the ceiling.
Running costs, GM insists, are low; the Project P.U.M.A. vehicle would cost one-fourth to one-third of what today’s cars cost to own and run.
As if to address the other obvious reaction, that this moves us one step closer to car-as-appliance, the release mentions both the “emotional connection” that Segway owners have to Segway products, and Project P.U.M.A.’s opportunity to “let designers create new fashion trends for cars, and to focus on the passion and emotion that people express through their vehicles." That is, if people are looking up from their holographic social networking and out to their surroundings as they’re being scooted around.
It's an exciting future, but it hardly feels like an auto enthusiast’s dream, eh?
From New York, we’ll bring you the latest this morning as GM and Segway pull the wraps off the P.U.M.A.