A Two-Wheeled, Two-Seat, Tiny Electric People-Mover from G.M. and Segway

By Eliza Strickland | April 7, 2009 8:44 am

PUMA 2General Motors and Segway have unveiled the prototype of their new collaborative effort: a tiny electric vehicle that the companies say could, maybe, one day, revolutionize urban transportation. The two-seated, two-wheeled pod is called PUMA, which stands for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility. G.M. executive Larry Burns says the PUMA is part of the company’s effort to remake itself as a purveyor of fuel-efficient vehicles. If Hummer took GM to the large-vehicle extreme, Burns said, the PUMA takes GM to the other [AP].

The companies will show off the PUMA at the New York International Auto Show this week, but say there’s a lot of work to be done before it will show up on city streets. “This is a prototype, not a product,” said [James] Norrod of Segway. “We have not made a decision to commercialize it” [The New York Times blog]. But if all goes well, the PUMA could eventually be sold for between one-fourth and one-third the price of a traditional car, G.M. executives say.

The PUMA’s two-wheeled system uses the gyroscopic balancing technique invented for the Segway scooter, and it includes a set of “training wheels” in the front and back, which G.M. executive Chris Borroni-Bird says are helpful at stoplights. The prototype has a top speed of 35 miles per hour and a range of 35 miles with its small lithium-ion batteries. That is enough, Borroni-Bird said, given that half of the world’s population lives in urban centers, with an expected 60 percent moving into that range by 2030 [The Detroit News]. 

G.M.’s Larry Burns says the PUMA would have one other important innovation. Ideally, the vehicles would also be part of a communications network that through the use of transponder and GPS technology would allow them to drive themselves. The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash, Burns said [AP].

The next step for the PUMA’s development is to test the prototype in the real world. The companies hope to recruit partners, such as cities or colleges, to set up Puma travel lanes, like bicycle lanes…. Though being unveiled in New York, the Pumas might appeal most in densely packed cities in places such as India and China, Borroni-Bird says. There they would seem a big step up from bicycles. Americans, who are used to cars, might not take them as seriously [USA Today]. 

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Image: Segway

  • Thomas Potter

    This is the best GM can do? No wonder they are falling off a cliff. I guess GM never heard of ZENN Mortor Company.

    The cityZENN (Zero Emissions No Noise) is planned to be a fully certified, highway capable vehicle with a top speed of 80 mph and a range of 250 miles. Powered by EEStor, the city ZENN will be recharged in less than 5 minutes, features operating cost 1/10th of a typical internal combustion engine vehicle and be 100% emission free! The target launch of the city ZENN, powered by EEStore is Fall of 2009. The cityZENN qualifies for the U S Government’s $2,500.00 tax credit or the Quebec Government $4,000.00 tax credit. http://www.zenncars.com/

    Secretive ultracapacitor firm EEStor, backed by Zenn and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (Al Gore is a partner), is developing a solid-state electrical energy storage unit which it says will be longer lasting, lighter, more powerful, and environmentally friendly than current battery technologies.

    “EEStor’s technology is a tenth the weight and volume of lead-acid batteries, and significantly smaller than the most advanced chemical batteries today,” said Clifford.

    Zenn said EEStor has publicly committed to commercialization in 2008, and that EEStor’s first production line would be used to supply Zenn.

    Zenn holds 3.8 percent of EEStor after investing $2.5 million in the ultracapacitor company in April. Kleiner Perkins invested a reported $3 million in EEStor in 2005.

    EEStor granted worldwide exclusive licenses for its storage units to Zenn for use in car conversions as well as for new small and medium-sized low speed and highway capable vehicles, but EEStor has already made at least one deal for other uses of its technology.

    In January, Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) announced that it signed a deal with EEStor to use the company’s ultracapacitors for military and homeland security applications.

  • http://www.staple-austin.org Chris

    looks like a Rascal with a windshield.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/ Uncle Al

    Think of it as a motorcycle being driven sideways. Inherently unstable vehicles of all kinds have impressive irreducible casualty rates. “ultracapacitor”? People as a class are stupid. Ever see a big capacitor fail in use?

  • Michael

    Not only can capacitors be very dangerous, where is all of the ‘extra’ electricity going to come from for these vehicles? If 20% of the gasoline/diesel vehicles were replaced by electric cars, our grid would collaspe or we would face continual brown/black-outs.

  • Jason

    I suppose this thing is basically a bike without the need to physically move our legs?

    I understand the want for a more efficient public transportation system, but honestly this seems pretty redundant to me.

  • http://www.staple-austin.org Chris

    Al and Mike have good points.

    Also “the companies hope to recruit partners, such as cities or colleges, to set up Puma travel lanes”.

    so cities will have to change their infrastructure for this thing? NOT! any innovation must be able to intergrate into the current situation or it’s not viable. this thing would get creamed by cars and is a danger to bikes and pedestrians.

    “The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash”…riiiiight.

    “most in densely packed cities in places such as India and China” so, what about the US market? isn’t that what you jerks are supposed to be working on?

    “a range of 35 miles…That is enough [for] urban centers” shooting kind of low and wide here fellas. if that is as far as you need to go, in an urban center, you’ve got a lot of other public transport options, already. it’s useless to a regular commuter. do they really think the people who are driving cars in places like NYC would replace them with this thing? i don’t think they’re taking human nature into account.

    i also don’t think anyone will want to own one of these things. maybe if you could rent them for the day…park your car at their garage on the edge of the city, take one out and bring it back when you’re done. maybe.

  • http://www.staple-austin.org Chris

    again, the rental model i came up with would only work if the thing is safe to drive on a street full of cars. which it is not.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Also, there’s the http://www.aptera.com Aptera car. Already ready to go, huge range, electric or plug-in hybrid with solar climate control and less drag than Lance Armstrong on a road bike.

    GM – too little (this is very, very little), way too late. GM is not going to exist long enough to commercialize this. They should have sold off Hummer (now a money loser that no one will buy), Saturn (never EVER turned a profit) and kept the EV-1. But they didn’t, and now they’re a slowly dying dinosaur kept on life support by our .Gov to keep their millions of people employed and nothing more. Otherwise it would look terrible, economically and in the news media, were GM to go bankrupt and fire everyone overnight.

    But the world would go on, and be a better place, sooner rather than later.

  • http://www.staple-austin.org Chris

    @Nick – and the Aptera is really good looking too (IMO).

  • Zetetic

    While it may not look as cool as the Aptera, don’t forget about Motor Development International and Zero Pollution Motors (for those in the USA). They offer a different approach to more fuel efficient vehicles. They are also entered into the automotive X-Prize competition.




    It will be interesting to see which technology/design wins out, both in the competition and in the real world.

  • John P

    Once they put a solar cell on these small vehicles, you won’t even have to worry about plugging them in; just leave them out in the sunlight.

  • Rob

    I’ll wait for the Aptera Later this year. 300 Miles per gallon, very small, and extremely safe for about $30k:

  • Brendan B

    Potter said: “Zenn said EEStor has publicly committed to commercialization in 2008, and that EEStor’s first production line would be used to supply Zenn.”
    Get your facts straight Mr. Potter before you try to pump up ZENN stock. Did you read what you typed. It’s April 2009 and there is no CityZenn powered by EESTOR’s ultracapacitor and there never will be.
    The original launch target for the highway capable CityZenn powered by EESTOR ultracapacitor/ceramic battery was scheduled for 2006. As of today it does not exist. Zenn’s CEO Ian Clifford has been making excuses every year for the delay. No one outside EESTOR has seen the ceramic battery that is to power the CityZenn. Zenn’s CEO Ian Clifford past automotive venture was a failure. Before he was involved with EESCAM, his Feel Good Cars (original name of CityZenn) was to be powered by hydrogen. The hydrogen powered FGC never materialized.
    DiscoverMagazine, Why don’t you ask Mr. Dick Weir CEO of EESTOR to loan to you a prototype of the ceramic battery which meets the approved patent spec claims so you can test the unit? I can guarantee you Dick Weir will not loan you or any one else anything for testing.

  • http://- Phil Doran

    Why not just put a hood on a mobility scooter and increase the speed a bit?

  • http://NONE Rodger Gittoes

    I personally like the Jiao [Pride] En-v Concept 2 seater or the Maio[Magic] 2 seater electric people mover ,looks very smart and would attract many more buyers ,looks quiet comfortable .
    These would sell to large shopping centres ,where lots of people are present .
    Looking fordward to seing them in Australia ,for sale .
    Perth wa. -Melbourne – Sydney -Brisbane -Darwin N.T.


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