General Motors and Segway create the PUMA to Reinvent Urban Mobility
Calling it Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility), this electrically powered, two-seat prototype vehicle has only two wheels and promises to allow people to travel around cities more quickly, safely, quietly, and cleanly. All this, and at a lower total cost to traditional transportation methods.
"Project P.U.M.A. represents a unique solution to moving about and interacting in cities, where more than half of the world's people live," said Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development, and strategic planning. "Imagine small, nimble electric vehicles that know where other moving objects are and avoid running into them. 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."
As our cities become more densely populated, traffic increases, as does competition for parking. Project P.U.M.A. helps to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution. It combines many mobility technologies demonstrated by GM and Segway, including electric drive and batteries; dynamic stabilization (two-wheel balancing); all-electronic acceleration, steering and braking; vehicle-to-vehicle communications; and autonomous driving and parking. Project P.U.M.A. integrates these technologies to increase mobility freedom, while also enabling energy efficiency, zero emissions, enhanced safety, seamless connectivity, and reduced congestion in cities.
"We are excited to be working together to demonstrate a dramatically different approach to urban mobility," said Jim Norrod, CEO of Segway Inc. "There's an emotional connection you get when using Segway products. The Project P.U.M.A. prototype vehicle embodies this through the combination of advanced technologies that Segway and GM bring to the table to complete the connection between the rider, environment, and others."
Essentially envisioned as a combination between GM's "Autonomy" concept car (which debuted in 2002 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit) and the highly maneuverable Segway Personal Transporter, the Project P.U.M.A. prototype vehicle integrates a lithium-ion battery and digital smart energy management, with two-wheel balancing, dual electric wheel motors, and a dockable user interface that allows off-board connectivity. This first functional concept can carry two passengers at speeds up to 25 miles per hour with a range up to 35 miles between recharges.
Initial prototype designs such as this one seen driving around New York City demonstrate a very light open-air vehicle that could evolve into slightly larger, more enclosed models as materials and development continue. The combination of weight, speed, and use cycle factors will all combine to influence its ultimate design, which could weigh between 300 and 400 kilograms (about 660 to 880 pounds). In a conversation about its timeline to commercialization, we were told that the partners hope to provide driveable prototypes within a year, and pilot production models within two years. Usually, when concepts as "non traditional" as this one debut at auto shows, they are meant simply to demonstrate the potential application of emerging technologies; because so much of the technology in the Project P.U.M.A. concept is already in production, it seems as if General Motors and Segway might actually be able to honor those estimates.
Since the introduction of its first "Human Transporter" in 2001, Segway has established itself as the leader in the small electric vehicle space, delivering more than 60,000 lithium-ion batteries to the market. The company claims its "approach to congestion and environmental challenges is balanced with a strong understanding of the functional needs of its customers, enabling them to do more with less."
Another featured technology of the new PUMA concept is its ability to connect and communicate with other vehicles so that it can detect the position and movement of other vehicles around it. Additionally, other vehicles know where it is, too - whether it is in blind spots, stopped ahead on the highway but hidden from view, or around a blind corner or blocked by other vehicles. Such vehicle-to-vehicle communication would enable these vehicles to offer additional safety without bumpers and airbags, essentially preventing collisions before they can happen. GM has been a pioneer in such "connected vehicle" communications systems and transponder technology since it introduced OnStar in 1996. (Today, this on-board communications package connects six million subscribers in North America to OnStar safety and security services.) These and additional connected vehicle technologies could ultimately enable vehicles that don't crash and -- as our roadways and systems improve -- could even drive themselves.
Did you know that 30% to 40% of total gasoline is consumed as drivers look for parking? Imagine how easy it would be to park these things! I see it as an ideal first car for teenagers who need simple transportation to accommodate their busy social schedules, or a convenient utility vehicle for members of small communities. Densely populated urban centers like New York,Tokyo, and Mumbai would benefit enormously from its functionality but I can also imagine strapping a golf bag on the back and putting it on a golf course.... Its uses are many!
"Imagine moving about cities in a vehicle fashioned to your taste, that's fun to drive and ride in, that safely takes you where you want to go, and "connects" you to friends and family, while using clean, renewable energy, producing zero vehicle tailpipe emissions, and without the stress of traffic jams," said Burns. "And imagine doing this for one-fourth to one-third the cost of what you pay to own and operate today's automobile. This is what Project P.U.M.A. is capable of delivering."
It's high-tech. It's got a cool factor higher than those little smart cars! And it's got a green footprint smaller than a Prius: Project P.U.M.A. sure looks like it could be a winner!
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