The question those responsible for planning the future of our cities have been wrestling with is whether we should be forced to give up personal transport relying on gas, and opt for public transport with some electric-powered options for individuals. Let’s make no mistake about this issue. Even if climate change proves to be an exaggerated threat, there will come a time when oil reserves run low and the cost of refined gas will make it too expensive to continue powering cars. This will mean redesigning the space where we live so we can walk more easily to the places we need to go. Mass rapid transport systems will become the norm and electric vehicles the standard on what’s left of the road network. As a taste of what’s likely to come, General Motors has been working with Segway to produce a radical new type of transport for an individual. This is the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle (PUMA).
It’s two-wheeled and battery-powered. With today’s battery technology, the range is about 35 miles at speeds of no more than 35 mph.
Why should we be thinking about driving vehicles like this?
There are four obvious reasons:
• it will reduce America’s dependence on imported oil;
• it will eliminate the emission of greenhouse gasses which is good for the climate;
• it will cut the problem of smog which produces better air for humans to breathe;
• it may reduce traffic congestion.
The fact we should be switching to the low-tech bicycle will not count in the balance. As a nation, we lack the strength and motivation to pedal ourselves any distance. With increasing levels of obesity, we will be dependent on high-tech gizmos like this to move us around.
What should we know about the PUMA?
• The PUMA shows GM thinking smaller. Even though the average American is increasing in physical size and weight, the design of personal transport is trending smaller.
• It’s a two-wheeled, two-person vehicle that uses gyroscopes to keep itself vertical while we ride in or on it.
• Car safety design technologies will be easy to fit into this vehicle to make it capable of autonomous driving. If cities are to be redesigned, smart grids can be laid into the roadways so that people may be moved safely from one part of the city to another.
• At 35 mph, this is three times faster than the currently available version of the Segway but is still not fast enough to allow it on to the highways. Under current laws, vehicles must be capable of traveling not less than 35 mph. So states will have to make real changes to the laws to allow PUMAs on the highways. In the short term, this will limit PUMAs to city driving.
• The retail price is expected to be between one quarter and one third the price of a standard four-wheel vehicle.