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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 12:06 GMT
'IT' is finally unveiled
The scooter already has its first orders
"IT" is here. IT generated a huge amount of hype and speculation in January this year when news of its existence first emerged.

All the knowledge that went into knowing how to walk goes into this machine

Dean Kamen, inventor
The IT in question is the invention of US engineer Dean Kamen and was finally unveiled today on American TV.

IT is a scooter. But not just any scooter.

It might look like an old-fashioned lawn mower, but the one-person, two-wheeled, battery-powered scooter is packed with technology that reportedly makes it easy to ride and hard to fall off.

Traffic jams

The Segway Human Transporter has gyroscopes to keep it upright and a sensitive steering mechanism that starts the scooter moving when its rider leans forward.

Kamen, AP
Kamen holds over 100 patents
The machine has a top speed of 19 kilometres per hour (12 miles per hour), and one charge of its battery holds enough juice for a 24-km (15-mile) trip.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, expects it to be a huge hit in cities where traffic congestion clogs the roads.

Details of the scooter were unveiled on ABC Television's Good Morning America breakfast show.

On the show, inventor Kamen said using the Segway was like putting on a pair of "magic sneakers".

Stirling speculation

"All the knowledge that went into knowing how to walk goes into this machine," said Mr Kamen. "It kind of walks for you."

Even before launch, the contraption has its first customers. The US Postal Service, General Electric and the US National Parks have reportedly agreed to buy many heavy-duty models for $8,000 (5,609) each.

But consumer versions costing $3000 (2,100) will not be available for a year.

The Segway scooter is also detailed in an article in an issue of Time Magazine. Mr Kamen told the magazine: "Cars are great for going long distances. But it makes no sense at all for people in cities to use a 4,000-pound piece of metal to haul their 150-pound asses around town."

Recently Mr Kamen has filed several patents for scooters and personal transporters that can carry people over rough terrain.

Since the first rumours about the Segway started circulating in January, the hype about the product has been building.

Expectations were raised by the high profile of some of the investors in the Segway project, who include Jeff Bezos, boss of online bookstore Amazon, and Steve Jobs, chief executive of Apple.

Past patents

Hyperbolic statements about the scooter being "more important than the internet" and its invention having as profound an impact as the creation of the car fuelled January's wild speculation.

Now, Mr Kamen admits that the unveiling of the scooter could leave people saying: "Is that it?"

He told Time: "It won't beam you up to Mars or turn lead into gold. So, sue me."

The Sinclair C5 was also touted as a major advance in transportation
Certainly, Mr Kamen has no doubt that the Segway will succeed. The company he controls has constructed a large factory near its New Hampshire headquarters that will be capable of producing 40,000 Segways a month by the end of 2002.

Mr Kamen is a prolific inventor. He holds over 100 patents for devices as diverse as a portable dialysis machine and a motorised wheelchair that can climb stairs.

Will Kamen's latest invention be a success? UK readers will be reminded of the C5, a three-wheeled electric buggy from 1985 that was also supposed to revolutionise the way people moved about the city.

The vehicle, which was the brainchild of one of the early pioneers of truly pocket calculators, Sir Clive Sinclair, was a commercial disaster and became the butt of many jokes.

The BBC's Martin Shankleman
"Is this one more mad idea?"
'IT' is unveiled
on ABC's 'Good Morning America' programme
See also:

12 Jan 01 | UK
Will 'IT' change your life?
02 Jun 00 | Health
Super wheelchair tackles stairs
26 Nov 01 | UK Politics
British transport 'worst in Europe'
29 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Motorways 'should be 14 lanes'
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