Dean Kamen on Clean Energy, Clean Water, and Commuting in the Mega City (Part One)

TreeHugger: Let's talk about the Segway. You're best known in the mainstream for inventing the Segway. And around the time of the Segway's much anticipated launch, you were talking about some very idealistic hopes for the Segway as a new form of sustainable transportation that could reenergize downtown areas by reducing the need for cars, and take people “the last mile,” as you referred to it. Is the Segway being used the way you envisioned it?

Kamen: I hope so. I think it will take time. I think virtually every new technology that I've ever seen ends up starting out in some very specific niche market where it can do something that simply can't be done any other way. And so people are willing, since they have no alternative, to take risks, pay a premium, or overcome obstacles to allow the world to change. And change is always seen with skepticism. So, whether it was computers, telephones, or airplanes, you name it, they typically get used in some very niche way when they're new and high priced. And then over time, they end up being used in completely unrelated ways to what the inventor had in mind.

And typically, as their acceptance goes up and their costs come down, they get used for all sorts of things. The Segway has now established itself, for instance, in the security industry and police as a very efficient way to carry people that have to primarily walk around to do their job. It gives them more efficiency, more mobility, more visibility. And they can afford to use the Segway to accomplish those goals.

I think as time goes on, the Segway will end up—as I thought many years ago—being a very attractive alternative in dense, pedestrian-orientated, urban environments where cars are just impractical and frustratingly slow...and expensive, and difficult to park, and difficult to do lots of things with.

Since the average speed in most big cities between any two addresses is still only seven or eight miles an hour—whether you do it by a cab or a trolley or a subway. But seven or eight miles an hour is still four times faster than walking at one and half or two miles an hour.

The fact that a Segway can get you from one place to another at the same average speed as all those other alternatives without the hassle, without the cost, and without the environmental impact on a per-trip basis, it gives the pedestrian a 300% or 400% increase in efficiency based on speed. It has lots of potential applications, since nearly half of the global population now lives in cities or megacities—that's over three billion people who do almost all of their primary traveling on their feet.

Most New Yorkers don't have a driver's license. So we believe that the future will be megacities where most people don't own or drive cars as their primary method of getting around locally. We think that the Segway is a huge opportunity.

It's certainly fun and environmentally friendly compared to most of the alternatives.

Tags: Carbon Footprint | Commuting | Desalination | Electric Cars | Energy | Lighting | Solar Power | Traffic | Urban Life

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