Editorial

Is Ginger just what the doctor ordered for Alex Zanardi
by Mark Cipolloni
December 4, 2001

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The Segway Human Transporter

Don't be surprised if you see Alex Zanardi motoring through the CART paddock in the not too distant future.  Designed by inventor Dean Kamen, the Segway Human Transporter, called Ginger, may just be what the doctor ordered for Alex.  It's an amazing device, and will revolutionize the way people, especially those who have lost a leg(s) or foot, get around in this world.

This invention is on everyone's lips and has captured everyone's imaginations. According to published reports, IT has caught the undivided attentions of tech revolutionaries like Apple's Steve Jobs and Amazon.com entrepreneur Jeff Bezos. 

Allegedly, these progressive minds are stunned; praise and sheer amazement flow from the lucky few who have seen IT (code name: Ginger). A book deal is already in the works, news magazines are clamoring for information, and the Internet is a flurry of IT chatter.  Here is a report by USA Today on the Segway.  Watch the video, it's neat.

I first became aware of Dean Kamen through my brother David Cipolloni.  Dave's high school and Princeton University students are sponsored by Kamen's company FIRST each year to design and build a robot.  Each year the robot must be designed and built to do different things, and it's up to the engineering students to design the robot using only a set amount of money, a small choice of available parts, and within a very limited time frame.  It teaches the students teamwork, to think outside the box and, of course,  how to design a robot

Dave speaks very highly of Kamen, saying he's one of the most amazing men he has ever met.  He's wealthy and quite successful, having invented such things as the insulin pump, heart stent inserted in Vice President Dick Cheney to a wheelchair that climbs steps.  More about Kamen can be found in this CNN report.

His latest invention might be his best yet.  It certainly is getting a lot of press and appears to work amazingly well.  This Time Magazine illustration shows how it works.  The cost - about $3,000 (consumer model), almost nothing to a person like Zanardi who lost both legs in a horrific accident at the Eurospeedway in Germany in September.  A more expensive commercial model is available now for $8,000. 

Alex, we hope to see you motoring around the paddock real soon. (Note: I have sent this story to Alex for his information).

More about the Segway

Segway HT balances through a technology they call dynamic stabilization. To understand how it works, think about how you balance. You have an inner ear that provides equilibrium, visual perception that lets you know where you are, a brain to process data and send commands, and muscles to carry out those actions. Dynamic stabilization works the same way, using gyroscopes and tilt sensors, software and circuit boards, and high-powered electric motors. 

Because it balances the way you do, Segway HT doesn't need input devices, like brakes or an accelerator. Lean forward and you move forward. Lean more, and you move faster. Straighten up and you glide to a stop. Lean back, and you move in reverse. Rotate your wrist in either direction, and you turn. Segway HT's technology makes it happen so naturally, it almost feels invisible.

The Segway details

Speed: up to 12.5 mph (20 km/h)
Segway HT must be quick enough to compress time and space without disturbing the pedestrian environment, so we gave it the ability to travel about three times faster than the average walker.

Range: up to 17 miles (28 km) on a single charge
When most transportation companies talk about range, they reference it under optimal conditions—no wind, flat terrain, and so forth. While Segway HT's maximum range with NiMH batteries is approximately 17 miles (28 km), we expect you'll be able to travel about 11 miles (17 km) on a single battery charge—accounting for variations in terrain and other factors. This is far more than the distance we expect the average user will travel on a Segway HT in one day. 

Turning Radius: zero
One characteristic of a pedestrian is the ability to turn in place without impacting any nearby person or object, something no vehicle can do. By balancing on a single axle, Segway HT users act no differently than pedestrians. The wheels have the ability to rotate in opposite directions, which enables the machine to turn in place.

Payload: Passenger: 250 lbs. (110 kg)
Cargo: 75 lbs. (34 kg), 
Future Off Board Cargo Module: over 300 lbs. (135 kg)
In order for Segway to be the optimal local travel solution, it has to have carrying capacity for users, packages, and cargo. 

Space: Platform height: 8 inches (20 cm) 
Footprint: 19 x 25 inches (48 x 63.5 cm) 
We designed Segway HT to take up no more space than the average person. It's no wider than a person's shoulders and raises you only 8 inches off the ground.

Weight: 80 lbs. (36 kg)
Portability was a key design objective. That's why we made Segway HT light enough to handle, small enough to store two in the trunk of a midsize sedan, and collapsible enough to fit in tight storage spaces. 

Safety: Redundant electrical systems. Robust mechanical systems.
Our top design objective is safety. So we gave Segway HT redundant sensors and electrical systems that share the load. If a problem develops in one, the other is designed to maintain balance while Segway HT slows down before shutting down. We also built the mechanical structures using the same design goals as aircraft designers, and thoroughly analyzed and tested our designs to make sure that we met these design goals. The end result is a machine that’s been designed, engineered, and tested to standards typically reserved for aircraft and medical equipment—not your typical consumer product. 

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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