A solution to the world’s urban transportation problems could lie in two wheels, not four, executives for General Motors Corp (GM) and Segway Inc said.
The firms announced yesterday that they were working together to develop a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle designed to be a fast, safe, inexpensive and clean alternative to traditional cars and trucks for cities across the world.
The Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, project also would involve a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact with each other, regulate the flow of traffic and prevent crashes from happening.
“We’re excited about doing more with less,” said Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, the Bedford, New Hampshire-based maker of electric scooters. “Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space.”
The 136kg prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway’s characteristic two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It’s designed to reach speeds of up to 56km per hour and can run 56km on a single charge.
The companies did not release a projected cost for the vehicle, but said ideally its total operating cost — including purchase price, insurance, maintenance and fuel — would total between one-fourth and one-third of that of the average traditional vehicle.
Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, and strategic planning, said the project is part of Detroit-based GM’s effort to remake itself as a purveyor of fuel-efficient vehicles.
If Hummer took GM to the large-vehicle extreme, Burns said, the PUMA takes GM to the other.
Ideally, the vehicles would also be part of a communications network that through the use of transponder and GPS technology would allow them to drive themselves. The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash, Burns said.
As a result, the PUMA vehicles would not need air bags or other traditional safety devices and include safety belts for “comfort purposes” only, he said.
Though the technology and its goals may seem like something out of science fiction, Burns said nothing new needs to be invented for it to become a reality.
“At this point, it’s merely a business decision,” he said.
Burns said that while putting that kind of communications infrastructure in place may still be a ways off for many US cities, the automaker is looking for a place, such as a college campus, where the vehicles could be put to use and grab a foothold in the market.
There’s no timeline for production, Burns said.