Segway PUMA: The Untold Story

At the New York Auto Show in 2009, Segway revealed the PUMA project, the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project. The Segway PUMA was an autonomous vehicle made for clean, safe, quick travel around cities and touted as the future of urban transportation.

It was small in shape, distinctive in design, affordable, and environmentally friendly. At the time, this vehicle seemed to address many of the personal mobility concerns and needs of those living in metro areas.

But Segway never brought the PUMA to market, and we’ve always wondered why. So today we’re taking a look back at its history, its features, its technology, and what the mission was all about. It very well could make an appearance this year. Or not. Only time will tell.

The History of Segway

Segway was founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1999 with a goal to make personal transportation easier. Kamen recognized the need for eco-friendly transportation and zero-emission vehicles. And with that, the original Segway personal transporter was born.

Segway set out to create alternative vehicles to trek through cities and travel short distances. It offered the opportunity to hop on a self-balancing personal transporter for those short rides. The intention was to encourage people to use an electric transporter rather than jump into a car to drive a short distance.

And it worked. Today’s Segway lineup includes several personal transporters, electronic hoverboards, and self-balancing scooters. Products can be bought through authorized Segway dealers and have been for sale on Amazon since 2002.

Segway merged with Ninebot in 2015. Together they focus on designing short-distance transporters made with the environment in mind. But long before the Ninebot merge, Segway and GM launched this as the vehicle that would redefine urban travel.

The PUMA’s Mission

The PUMA prototype turned some heads at the 2009 New York Auto Show. With its small shape and pod-like design, this two-seater vehicle was designed to fight congestion in cities.

As the earth’s population grows, urban areas continue to become more crowded. Segway debuted the PUMA as the answer to navigating the crowded streets of major metro areas.

Its appearance garnered mixed reviews, as you might expect from any new technology. But there’s no doubt that people wanted to know what it was all about. At about one-sixth the size of a typical car, it’s clear that Segway wasn’t trying to design a spacious, roomy ride.

Also see: read about the primary differences between the Segway x2 and Segway i2.

The prototype vehicle was designed to be an electric vehicle with a short charge time, all while helping fight smog and pollution in cities. Segway claimed that with the purchase price, insurance, fuel, and maintenance, it would cost a fraction of the price of the average car.

“We are excited to be working together to demonstrate a dramatically different approach to urban mobility,” said Jim Norrod, CEO of Segway Inc. “There’s an emotional connection you get when using Segway products. The Project P.U.M.A. prototype vehicle embodies this through the combination of advanced technologies that Segway and GM bring to the table to complete the connection between the rider, environment, and others.”

General Motors was on board to handle sales of the vehicle. The hope was that GM’s sales network would allow the new model to exceed Segway’s PT sales through limited dealers. Yet neither Segway nor GM ever released the projected cost of the tiny, futuristic ride.

Between the environmental benefits, mobility, and affordable price, it was to be the future of city travel. But despite the interest and attention it received at the New York Auto Show, Segway and GM never brought the model to market.

Safety Features of the Segway PUMA

The intention was for it to have a GPS system that would help the driver avoid crashes. For safe travel, top speeds would max out at 35 miles per hour, and the use of dynamic stabilization would help it to maintain balance.

Aside from its features, the look alone made it one to watch. Two large wheels on each side and small wheels in front and back prevented it from rolling or tipping over. To keep it in perfect balance, all you had to do was turn the wheels in accordance with the angle of the Segway.

It was to be a tiny, efficient, and inventive design made with safety in mind. It was a bridge between the traditional car and the self-balancing scooter.

PUMA’s Technology

With a weight of 300 pounds and a range of 35 miles, it would be ideal for traveling through a city. One could avoid public transportation yet not have to worry about harmful emissions.

Its lithium-ion battery, smart energy management, and dockable user interface could give it a full charge in three hours for a cost of about $0.35 cents. The affordability only made it more appealing, considering the price of gas needed to power a car.

Designed to carry two people side by side, it would be Segway’s first transporter to carry more than one person at a time. The two-person occupancy played into the idea of cutting down on congestion and reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

It also included a vehicle to vehicle communication system that would allow for autonomous driving and parking. The system could alert you to open parking spots and provide traffic reports. Equipped with dual electric in-wheel motors, each side wheel would have power from its own motor.

At the time of its debut in 2009, Segway and GM said they hoped to have the PUMA in production by 2012. Now six years later, we still haven’t seen any indication that they’ll be coming to market any time soon.

No one can say for sure why Segway didn’t put the PUMA into production. According to Wikipedia, talks of it stopped altogether in 2016. But the reasons for its conception are even more prevalent now than they were in 2009.

The earth’s population is growing. Cities are becoming more crowded with each passing day. Electric cars have become more popular and are more important now than ever before.

So who knows? Maybe we’ll see a day where the demand forces Segway to put it in production. Perhaps Segway will go back to the drawing board and reinvent the design with better features or look.

Or maybe they’ve been perfecting it all this time. We’ll have to wait and see.


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