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Atlanta test-drives the 'Segway' transporter

"Think forward. Now think back." "Segway" inventor Dean Kamen talks Catherine Ross, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, through her first ride.  

By Marsha Walton
CNN Sci-Tech

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- First, a few seconds of wobble. Then a whole lot of "Wheeeeeeeeee!" as a slew of Atlanta and Georgia officials stepped on the Segway.

Atlanta is among the first cities that will be field-testing the much-hyped human transporter unveiled in December by inventor Dean Kamen.

"One of my biggest fears before we went public was, people would think of this as a toy," said Kamen. "We think it's much more than that."

Kamen says the two-wheeled scooterlike vehicle is "like a pair of magic sneakers" because the passenger moves by thinking forward or backward -- as if walking -- without falling.

U.S. cities are testing the Segway, the new mode of travel that developers said would change transportation. CNN's Ann Kellan reports (January 15)

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It took a few attempts for some people to warm up to it.

"It looks kind of loopy at first," said Tom Weyandt, director of comprehensive planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission. "But after three or four minutes, you feel quite comfortable. It does the work for you."

Who will be the first users?

"The police, perhaps," Weyandt said, "then out at the airport, in fairly controlled settings. In time, however, we'll begin to see it used by the consumer, for short trips, say on a corporate campus, or a university campus."

Not ready to commit -- yet

But neither Weyandt nor Atlanta Police Chief Beverly Harvard was ready to commit any funds yet.

Postal workers in Tampa will be testing "Segway" devices on their appointed rounds -- even in the rain.  

"I think we'll have to take some field tests with officers first, to see how practical it is, how useful it is, if it lives up to expectations," said Harvard.

Only then will the department decide whether the $8,000 human transporters actually do save time and money, and save wear and tear on employees.

While law enforcement officers and other city workers tested and twirled inside SciTrek, a science museum in downtown Atlanta, some postal workers in Tampa, Florida, were giving their Segways a reality check in the pouring rain.

Five letter carriers, each with about 500 addresses, will be testing the units. Their bags, usually weighing about 35 pounds, will be mounted on the sides of the Segway.

Tampa Postmaster Rich Rome said in a statement that the U.S. Postal service has a long history of "deploying technology that drives efficiency."

Future of transportation?

Kamen, a prolific inventor and promoter of science education, says he wants the device to revolutionize the urban landscape.

Inventor Dean Kamen rides the "Segway," which can reach top speeds of 18 miles per hour.  

"I took it across the Brooklyn Bridge, and the only thing the police said to me was, 'When do I get mine?'" he said.

The Segway's two batteries recharge in four to five hours, and a charge will take you 10 to 15 miles with a top speed of about 18 miles per hour. There's no noise, and no pollution.

"Fifty percent of the world's population now lives in cities, those are the people who need this," said Kamen. "We still get around cities the way the Greeks did 5,000 years ago; they put on sandals, we put on sneakers."

City workers in Boston, Washington, and Manchester, New Hampshire, are also testing the high-end devices. There are even snow tires available for cold climates.

The consumer version, which will be a little smaller and available in a year or two, will cost about $3,000. A factory in Bedford, New Hampshire, will be in full production of the Segways by the end of January.


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