FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Friday, December 17, 2004

Personal Mobility: Not Done Cookin'

Today, the Segway Human Transporter (HT) is more known for the marketing hype that preceded it than for its ground-breaking design. But the HT may prove to have simply been ahead of its time, as other developers are creating their own personal transporters. However, they appear to be ahead of their time too.

Earlier this month, Toyota unveiled its i-unit prototype, which is essentially a very tiny car for one person.

At first blush, many people -- Americans especially -- will wonder what possible use they would have for such a device. It's a good question. I certainly wouldn't want to take this little guy out on I-95! It appears to be just as clunky as a car for city maneuvering. What happend when it rains or snows? And where the heck are the kids supposed to sit??

For now, personal transportation devices may be a "hammer in search of a nail." They don't fit elegantly into our lives, either culturally or geographically. From an engineering perspective, these devices are exciting and innovative. But with a few exceptions, they aren't very useful to us yet.

Perhaps there may come a culture shift whereby personal mobility will play a critical role. Communities would have to be built with these devices in mind, including infrastructure and legal considerations; retirement villages would be a good proving ground for these. Energy shortages may nudge us toward accepting personal transportation devices, but while the principles behind them are sound, we simply aren't ready for them.

Source: Responsible Nanotechnology