Segway Assistance

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Segway scooter inventor Dean Kamen wants a little help from the federal government, according to the Washington Post.

His company is lobbying the feds to fund trails, provide tax credits for customers, and buy Segways for government use. The scooters cost $4,950 a piece at Amazon.

"One of the reasons Dean moved to New Hampshire was he loved the 'live free or die' motto. Keep government out," said Brian Toohey, a vice president at Kamen's company. "But to make this technology widely available, we need government help."

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  1. Hey, my business needs some gov’t funds too! Where do I go for the free handouts? Fucking leech. There are millions of businesses that make it on their own. If he can’t cut it, then it’s not a good/valueable product. That’s how capitalism works. The Segway is just another in a very, very long line of monumental business flops. An overpriced, relatively useful toy is all it is.

  2. Kaeman’s best bet is plugging into the hydrogen power money Shrub’s proposing.

    The next breakthrough in battery power is the hydrogen fuel cell, already proven and now being shrunk small enough to run a cell phone.

    http://www.fcbt.gatech.edu/

  3. What is the actual invention that made Dean Kamen’s name? I suppose I could look it up, and I’m pretty sure he did at some point invent something that somebody wanted to use; but I prefer to think of him as a technological Gabor sister, who appeared out of nowhere with everybody already marveling about what a huge celebrity and terrific genius he is.

  4. 1) Kamen made his name by inventing a motorized wheelchair that can climb curbs and stand the user up to normal human height. Very good product.

    2) Everyone talks about car safety as crash safety, as if the amount we crash was a given. Similarly, everyone talks about transportation advances as better vehicles, as if the amount we drive was a given. Why can’t we just build real neighborhoods, with corner stores, post offices, and enough density to support transit?

  5. I’m with Joe.

    For some reason the gummint has taken as one of its main duties to subsidize transportation. Every mode from trains to cars to planes owes their success to the public’s providing them land, roads, terminals, traffic control, etc. If you put a bond issue to a vote for either schools or roads, the latter wins every time.

    I think our world would look way different if General Motors and Lockheed had to pay their own way.

  6. And you would fund Joe’s proposal….how?

  7. My proposal doesn’t need funding, just the end of snob zoning and the redirection of existing transportation dollars.

  8. You mean those existing transportation dollars that you guys are fond of calling a “subsidy” to Detroit? So then you could have your own “subsidy”? (sarcasm on) Hey, I really like your brand of “intellectual honesty”. (sarcasm off)

  9. Hey, I’m all for privatizing the roads. Don’t think it would end traffic and long commutes, though. I think having the government provide roads is probably not the most efficient way to do it, and even if we had to pay tolls everywhere I think it would cost less than the gas and property and income taxes we currently spend on it amount to. And the f***ing things would probably last longer too, since the people paying to have roads built would have a built-in interest in making them durable, as opposed to the current situation where the road construction business sucks the taxpayers dry by having to repave the same roads they paved two years ago.

  10. Joe:

    Why do you assume that people would want to live in your fantasized “real neighborhoods”. There is a reason most people live in the suburbs – most people want to live in the suburbs. You get the best of both worlds – easy access to urban ammentities, with the low crime, quite, fresh air, and space of rural areas.

    For most people, density is the enemy.

  11. It’s hard to fault Kamen here. Look at the case of the post office. He may be right that a post office would run more efficiently if it used his little scooters, but there’s no way to know, since all mail is delivered by a government monopoly. If he know’s he’s right, he has no recourse but to try to convice the government. In the real world, competing companies would have to do due diligence on the idea or risk losing a money maker to someone else. They could then explain to him why it doesn’t work, rather than just sending him down the line as a victim of government beauracracy.

    Since it is in all but name a jobs program, the last thing the post office wants to do is become efficient, and have to lay off workers. It is doubtful that there was a serious study at all.

    The same is true for funding trails. Since the goverment holds a monopoly on roads, there is nowhere else to go to get paths built. Since other forms of transportation are subsidized, it is impossible to compete with them.

  12. Steve: First time I ever heard someone call a lack of a subsidy a subsidy.

    PLC: Joe isn’t assuming people want to live in his neighborhood. But you omit the fact that part of the reason people live in the suburbs is because of the subsidized transportation into areas that would have little value otherwise. In other words, it’s cheaper to live there in part because it’s subsidized. The close-in suburbs of most urban areas (those who’s density was nearly maximized prior to the Eisenhower Interstate System’s existence) do not reflect the density of the newer post-Interstate suburban areas.

    I’ve had this discussion with co-workers many times, it usually comes up when they bitch about the price of something or how long the commute is. They chose to live far away to get cheaper land; if all their savings is being spent on increased transportation costs, it’s their own mistake for assuming the price of fuel (and tolls) would remain constant.

    I’d love to continue, but it’s time for me to take my subsidized public transport (bus) home.

  13. http://www.vtpi.org/tca/

    Here’s a site that analyzes true transportation costs. A car owner usually calculates their cost per mile by figuring fuel, capital cost, depreciation, etc. and comes to around $.36 a mile. When you figure the total cost, including infrastructure and human cost of that mile, though, it comes to $1.33.

    There’s also a thing called the “Barrier Effect” of traffic. There’s a good section on that and points out that, for instance, children walking to school has reduced by about 80% since 1970, mainly because it’s so fucking dangerous.

    PLC’s living in a former corn field served by a gravel road. Over time it becomes a sea of rooftops, concrete and Stop N Go’s. The little country roads are overloaded and funnel into more overloaded county blacktops. He leaves for work at 6 and returns at 7. He has three cars now because his daughter hates to take the bus to school. His spare time is taken up working on that crackerbox house built by that shyster contractor. He longs for a boat.

    I’ll take the city anytime.

  14. Russ,

    Actually, net tax flows are from the suburbs to the cities. Not the other way around. People in the suburbs subsidize people living in the cities. Some of that money goes to building roads so that suburbanites can get there, but they are paying for it. The people getting screwed are suburbanites who do not drive into the city.

  15. Lefty:

    Actually, since I both live an work in the suburbs, I have a 15 minute commute. Where I live (near Seattle) the worst commute times are for those living in the city and working in the suburbs. Many of the same factors which motivate individuals to move to the suburbs also motivate business to move out of the inner city.

    There is a great divide in the types of people who enjoy city living and the types of people who enjoy country/suburb living. Because of this divide, you will see growing local political monopolies (I’ll give you a million bucks if you can get a Republican elected to the city council in Seattle or San Francisco), growing tensions between the suburbs and the city, and you will see continued decline in the cities (slowed somewhat by subsidization). Why is it that those who live in the suburbs do not begrudge the choices made by urban dwellers, but urbanites continually harange the suburban lifestyle? Maybe some people believe in individual liberty and others just want to be able to tell everyone how to live?

    BTW – I doubt that anyone would call my home a “crackerbox house”. A mansion, perhaps.

  16. Lefty – also, I already have a boat. It’s nice. It’s amazing what you can accumulate by 30 if try a little….

  17. Trails? For that pinnacle of athleticism, cross-country segwaying?

    “There’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a grueling 10K segcross.”

  18. The flying car is a pipe dream. Government, which already owns the air, would never allow it because its too dangerous. Maybe if all the flying cars could be coordinated into a central network and the users had no control over the moment to moment flying, then it would happen, but not until government can control it to ensure our safety. America is the land of safety now, not risk. Think about it, if there were no cars now, would government allow people to build them and travel down the road at any speed they wanted? It is regrettable, because we’ll never know where we would be right now if government didnt always stop us from taking risks to protect our safety.

  19. yup. stupid invention, needs gov’t help. crash and burn, we can only hope.

  20. PLC,

    Nobody wants to live in higher density, walkable, mixed use neighborhoods? That must be why New Urbanist communities have such high vacancies and low prices. Not.

    Asked to describe the ideal neighborhood, most Americans describe PLC’s monotonous, car centered burbs. Shown pictures of different places, they choose dense, pedestrian-oriented, vibrant urban (or older suburban) neighborhoods. The Levittown ideology is a mile wide and an inch deep.

    As far as taxes go, suburbs have finally started paying their way because the jobs have moved out there. The large lot, cookie cutter bedroom community is still a subsidized parasite.

  21. Such an over hyped, useless, and expensive technology, I thought it was a by-product of missile defense to begin with

  22. As for transportation subsidies, governments have always funded transportation projects, from the Apian Way to O’Hare International Airport. It’s a fundamental part of what a government does, and it’s a smart use of money. Whatever else you can say about it, the Interstate Highway System caused economic growth to boom.

    I have no problem with the fact the government subsidizes transportation. I just think we need to be a little smarter about it.

  23. The real problem with Segway’s and other “alternate” forms of transportation is that it is very difficult to integrate transportation systems that run at different speeds and on different surfaces on a two dimensional plane. We have a complex crossing and guard system to integrate, pedestrians, automobiles and trains that often breaks down. Bicycles survive in urban areas only because cyclist can jump back and forth from street to sidewalk. Segways, nifty technology that they are, go to fast for the sidewalk and to slow for the street. Does Kamen expect that we will create a fourth transport surface to run parallel to sidewalks, roads and rail?

  24. They’re not only too fast for the sidewalk, they’re too big and a nuisance to those of us walking on the sidewalk (bicycles on the sidewalk are bad enough).

  25. Shannon,
    Thank you for giving me a laugh so early on a Mon. I had thought the deficiencies of the Segway were Intuitively Obvious to the Most Casual Observer? But they did build the stupid thing and it is getting a lot of attention, so here is a short list of reasons the Segway will never be a commuter option.
    Too slow – compared to other motorized vehicles and even bicycles.
    Too inconvenient – need to find a place to park.
    Too exposed – no protection from the elements.
    Too dangerous – no protection in the event of an accident.
    Too small – no cargo or passenger capacity.
    Too slothful – no exercise in spite of all the fresh(?) air.
    The above (partial) list will prevent the ‘re-engineering of cities’ that is also necessary before the Segway can become a viable means of transportation. On the other hand, I think the Segway will become common for indoor industrial transportation, competing with tricycles and electric carts. In this application, it is really just a minor advance on existing technology.

  26. Joe, you got a cite (or better yet, a link) for the assertion that most Americans describe suburbs as an ideal place to live, but when shown pictures they choose denser areas? Never heard that before, and I’d like to see it.

  27. If they’re going to burn a hundred million of somebody else’s dollars, they ought to do it right. Check out the Hiller Flying Platform. Now there’s an idea.

    http://www.hiller.org/exhibits/online-exhibits/flying-platform/flying-platform.html

  28. Segway or Salon? Which to save? Maybe a free subscription with every scooter sold? or vice versa?

  29. Lefty’s on to something here. The next revolution in personal transport may be the ‘flying car’. I know, they’ve been talking about that for fifty years and a few have been built. Moeller engineering is working on more recent versions that are still not commercially viable but are closer to the mark of something that could be feasible. Advances in control systems and artificial intelligence may eventually make it a viable option. I can only imagine it working, from a regulatory and safety standpoint, if the things only work on automatic pilot. Highway congestion can be greatly alleviated by travel in three dimensions.

    Preceding that, the next ‘down to earth’ step would probably automated driving systems, which also will only be able to come into their own once they are sophisticated enough to drive with regular traffic without the aid of special highways. This will be revolutionary because it combines some of the advantages of public transport with personal transport.

    These developments are still years away – but their potential is apparent. I still don’t know how anyone as smart as Dean Kamen thought this Segway thing would ‘revolutionize’ transportation when it’s really nothing more than a clever (and expensive) motorscooter.

  30. Lefty – I have Mexicans for that. White people don’t mow lawns!

  31. PLC – now that was just plain rude. You’re giving the rest of us a bad name. I also happen to have a large house in a ‘rural residential’ area on a 2 acre lot, and I cut my own grass. Of course, we don’t have a lot of immigrants here in Michigan that come here for low paying jobs – most of the non-natural born residents here are engineers from eastern Europe and India that came here to work high paying jobs in the auto industry. I used to pay a guy (who happens to be white) to cut my grass in a previous house, and he charged me $35 to do half an acre. He did the whole thing in about 15 minutes. He had a $20,000 lawn mower towed by a $40,000 truck and probably lives in the same type of house you live in.

  32. Jim – I never said the Mexicans are poor. I pay them $300 a month, and the lawn care business is just an after-hours and weekends gig for them. They primarily do construction. Not bad for a family of immigrants.

    But, the fact remains, in suburban Seattle, all the lawn mowing is done by Mexicans (or, occassionally Koreans).

    I put myself through college mowing lawns and after I graduation I made a vow that I would “mow no more forever”.

  33. PLC,

    Actually I took your comment as a joke – but feared others would interpret it as a racist comment. I guess that’s what happens when you get exposed to too much political correctness and you can’t even make a joke about an apparent reality. Fact is, many of what once were considered ‘good American jobs’ now are only done by immigrants because we natives don’t want to do them anymore.

    BTW, I have a lawn tractor now, and you can legally drink and drive on your own lawn. Makes the job a lot less stressfull.

  34. And we wonder why other countries hate us.

  35. A “country” can’t hate anyone or anything. Some leaders hate us, and some people hate us – for a variety of reasons. I don’t think anyone really “wonders” about the causes – they’re pretty well know. Mostly, though, everyone loves America (look at immigration patterns for evidence).

  36. PLC. Aren’t you special!

    Now, go mow the lawn.

  37. I’m probably “correct” enough in this regard, since I DO live in the city….people live where they WANT to live. Since this is the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are all free to do that if we please. Until it’s no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, you “force everyone back into the cites”-types know what I think they can do with a particularly fat, white part of my personage.

    y’all MAKE me respond this way, ya know.

  38. I grew up in suburbs but late last year moved to downtown Philadelphia (Center City here being the only neighborhood in the city to have grown in population over the last census decade).

    To my surprise, the absolute finest thing about the lifestyle change of this move was that I can walk to my choice of two supermarkets (Super Fresh for staples, Whole Foods for snob food) and that nearly every single other customer also walks to these markets – the lines move impossibly fast when everyone is buying only a bag or two. With my pantry two blocks away, my fridge is typically close to empty (just-in-time inventory management!). I feel like I’m eating fresher and wasting less. I admit, it helps that I do have a monthly parking spot in one of the market garages.

    I did not expect that the option to walk to the supermarket would be so positive. I can only suggest to PLC that they open their mind to this aspect of urban living.

    Living here is more expensive on net, but this cost buys convenience. I’m happy with my choice to move here.

  39. Since vitually everyone in America owns a car, and uses the roads, and pays taxes for them, it’s hard to understand how the highways and roads are a ‘subsidy’ since everyone seems to pay for them. True, some urban dwellers and people who live and work a mile or two from their house might be subsidizing those of us who drive 30 miles to work every day since they only use the highways on weekends or for their vacation trips, but those who drive more also pay more taxes (in the form of gas taxes). I’m not sure, absent of government interference, that there would be much difference in how people live.

    Some folks like the close, walkable suburban neighborhoods. Some like the dense bustle of the city. Some like to live on acres of vacant land in the country. Some of us will have lived in all three environments at some point in our lives. I don’t think that will change.

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