Originally created 12/04/01

'IT' is a gyro-balanced super-scooter



NEW YORK -- "IT" is a scooter.

Capping months of speculation about his mysterious innovation, an inventor unveiled the device Monday - a gyroscope-stabilized, battery-powered scooter that he hopes will revolutionize short-distance travel.

Dean Kamen and his backers are banking on the Segway Human Transporter to displace cars, leading to a realigned cityscape that's more people-friendly.

The single-rider Segway, until now known only by its code names IT and Ginger, "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy," Kamen boasted in this week's Time magazine. "Cars are great for going long distances. But it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-pound piece of metal."

Monday morning, Kamen and the hosts of ABC's "Good Morning America" took the scooter for a spin in Manhattan's Bryant Park, demonstrating maneuvers and cruising up and down ramps as crowds watched.

The two-wheeled Segway, which looks like a cross between a hand mower and a Razor scooter, travels at up to 12 mph, said Kamen spokesman Dave Chapman.

It's designed to be difficult to fall from or knock over because of gyroscopes that work to keep it upright. Speed and direction are controlled by the rider's shifting weight.

Riders stand upright over the invention's single axle, navigating with a bicycle-like handlebar. A single battery charge can propel the scooter 15 miles over level ground.

Kamen, whose Manchester, N.H.-based DEKA Research and Development company will oversee production, said the Segway requires about 10 cents' worth of electricity for a six-hour charge.

Kamen holds roughly 100 U.S. patents. His other inventions include the heart stent used by Vice President Dick Cheney, a wheelchair that climbs stairs and the first portable kidney dialysis machine.

The Postal Service and the City of Atlanta will be among the first purchasers, buying 80-pound heavy-duty models for $8,000 apiece, Chapman said.

The Postal Service plans to test 20 Segways on mail routes in Concord, N.H., and Tampa and Fort Myers, Fla., starting in January, Chapman said. In February, Atlanta's visitor's bureau employees will begin using the scooters to patrol the tourist district, Chapman said.

A 65-pound, $3,000 consumer model won't be available for at least a year.

Segway's director of marketing, Tobe Cohen, said Kamen hopes operators will be permitted to ride the Segway on city sidewalks, negating the need for licenses or insurance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ruled that Segway is not a vehicle, Cohen said. "We're working with state regulators to make sure they understand that," Cohen said.

Kamen withheld information on the Segway until he had finished filing related patents.

From the time plans for the machine were first leaked to a Web site called Inside.com almost a year ago, tantalizing but vague mentions of the project kept the device in a controlled state of hype.

Time said its article's author was given license to shadow Kamen for three months, on condition of secrecy. The New York Times, which had a report on the contraption Monday, also was given advance information on the project in return for a pledge of secrecy, Chapman said.

The Associated Press was offered an advance look on condition it did not release the information until an hour before the "Good Morning America" broadcast. It turned down the deal. ABC's parent company, the Walt Disney Co., has sponsored Kamen's robot-building competitions for students.

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