The launch yesterday of the GM/Segway PUMA brought back memories of Clive Sinclair’s comical, ill-fated C5. I don’t think the PUMA will attract quite the ridicule of the C5, but I expect its commercial success may be as slim.
I’m certainly all in favor of efforts to innovate in transportation, but I’m not sure the world is clamoring for the PUMA. The grand words at the launch — that it “could change the way we move about in cities” — are clearly bollocks. Dean Kamen and his acolytes said the same thing in the frenzy before the launch of the Segway, and its most notable impact has been as something to laugh at in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and YouTube videos of Steve Wozniak.
Far more fruitful would be more research and more investment in mass public transport. The Obama stimulus package included funding for public transport, but it was fairly modest given the desperate underprovision in most American urban areas. The other personal transport that should certainly be pushed doesn’t require much innovation. It’s staggeringly efficient, has a zero-carbon footprint and could help reduce the western world’s obesity epidemic. All hail the bicycle.