The PUMA on the auto show floor. (Credit: Jim Motavalli)
NEW YORK — I was sick for days — days! — after riding on an innocuous amusement ride named the Ali Baba at our neighborhood church fair recently. On any water rougher than a placid pond, I get seasick. So it’s not surprising that a short ride at the New York International Auto Show in the General Motors/Segway Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) vehicle — a wheelchair that took a detour through Pimp My Ride — left me feeling vaguely queasy. Actually, really queasy.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy the experience, or the car, or vehicle, or whatever it is. Think of a Segway for two that you sit in. Or on, because it’s kind of open air. P.U.M.A. is a gyroscopically balanced zero-emissions vehicle, or ZEV, with two wheel motors powered by lithium-ion batteries. It has a 35-mile range, and a 35-mph top speed. It’s Segway’s patented gyroscopic tipping — as the vehicle moves forward and back — that tied my stomach in knots.
Here's the PUMA captured on video on the New York show floor:
There’s only one P.U.M.A., and it was cobbled together by Segway’s engineers in something like 90 days, though GM and Segway have been talking for a year and a half. The idea is that P.U.M.A. will be more than just a novel transporter: GM envisions its OnStar system harnessed to allow vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and, eventually, full autonomous remote control. Your docked iPhone will constitute a dashboard, and you can use it to set up a video conference with your friends while a server somewhere plots your route and makes sure you don’t hit the other pods on the road.
Dr. Chris Borroni-Bird is director of Advanced Technology Vehicle Concepts at GM, and he says that the P.U.M.A. has only a quarter the mass of a regular vehicle. He sees broad applications for the vehicle to transport the elderly and disabled — not least because bodywork options include a hinged front-end that would make for very easy entrance and exit.
“Our holistic vision can be described as a three-legged stool,” Dr. Borroni-Bird said. “First, electric drive; second, the unique size and shape of the vehicle; third, connectivity. GM does believe in electrification, and we do think that future vehicles will need to be small.”
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