Flutterby™! : Code Name Ginger

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

Code Name Ginger

2006-08-12 18:16:21.137098+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

A few weeks ago I linked to an excerpt from Code Name Ginger, "The Story Behind SEGWAY and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World". That prompted me to track down the book and read it.

Review: Code Name Ginger is my take on the book.

[ related topics: Books New Economy Invention and Design Segway/Ginger/IT ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-13 17:39:24.334348+00 by: petronius

I haven't read this book, but I hope it gives some coverage to Kamen's high-tech wheelchair that uses the same balance module. I've heard that Kamen has been trying to get the wheelchair declared a medical device so that insurance will cover it, but apparently Medicare is afraid of having to pay for a gadget that costs as much as a small Mercedes (~ $26k). I also wonder how much the balance unit would cost all by itself. You seem to think that innovation will only happen when the patents run out; wouldn't it be possible for Kamen to sell the module at a reasonable price to people to install in some other device, like a tip-proof construction crane or a small-footprint fire-fighting robot?

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-13 21:58:09.307228+00 by: Dan Lyke

It does, and a theme of the book is about the conflicts between the "Ginger" (Segway) folks and the "Fred" (iBot) folks who felt abandoned because "Ginger" was the sexy .com boom project.

But I think the main problem with the iBot is that wheelchairs and Medicare are already a huge fraud issue (Flutterby mention) and the sidewalk SUV is becoming a social issue (Flutterby mention).

If Dean Kamen[Wiki] could come up with a cost benefit of why his wheelchair is a good idea, beyond the simple quality of life anecdotes he uses, I think it'd be a shoo-in. But, much like the Segway, I think nobody on his team is thinking about laying out the economic case, they're stuck on the cool technology and leaving it to Independence Technology to figure out the market.

Which takes me back to the Segway: If I live in a city (and that's where this would be a useful tool), I probably commute via public transit, where it'd be a lot of hassle to drag the Segway on and off of, so the device is relegated to running around. $5k will, let's say, buy you 500 cab rides. What's the battery life expectance of the scooter? Is it roughly what I can expect out of a laptop battery, coincidentally around 500 charges?

So dropping over to the iBot, is the $15k+ premium over a conventional electric wheelchair really the most effective way to spend that money? Kamen's made the anecdotal mention that giving people mobility with height will keep them out of assisted living, but has he got numbers to make a case for that to anyone but the media? I'm guessing not, or he would have made a better case.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-14 14:35:03.565181+00 by: petronius

I do think you're right about the business case being made (or not) for the Segway. I've seen some in Chicago, one group operated by a guy who does guided tours of the Loop, and a couple used by cops inside of the airports. Even adding in handy use by mailmen or people buzzing around large factories, it doesn't seem to be enough to justify the development costs.

As to the future use question, I remember back in the late 70s seeing the Poloroid cameras that used a sonic pulse to set the focus on the lense. At a camera show I saw Poloroid selling kits that contained their patented sonar module for use by experimenters. I don't know what they charged, but it looked like a good idea to get other people interested in using the technology in new areas, like back-up alarms for forklifts and such. Unfortunately for Poloroid, at the same photo show I saw the Nikon's prototype of an all optical auto-focus system, which impressed everyone much more. I note now that optical systems rule the roost, and the sonic approach has fallen by the wayside.

#Comment Re: made: 2006-08-15 00:16:54.930102+00 by: Dan Lyke

In the early '80s I hooked up one of those Polaroid transducers to an Apple ][ to build a ranging system for the physics lab, and wrote software to do all sorts of fun graphing and such with the data from it. It's been used for all sorts of things, few of them having anything to do with photography.

The Segway folks have enough invested in it that I doubt they've got the guts to set it up as a platform for external experimentation. And I haven't read the patents associated with it, but I think most of the really cool applicatons of active balancing are going to be around 4 and 6 (with 4 wheels down at any given time) wheeled platforms, and I don't know how well they've got that sewed up. So either it'll be innovate around the patents, or tie everything up until the patents expire.

The issue with mail delivery, and I'm going to guess with much of the factory/warehouse floor applications, is that without the hands free you can't do anything else while you walk. So clipboards are out, sorting papers is out, etc.

And in a factory/warehouse where you'd actually save time by moving people around faster I'd bet that making the forklift fleet a little larger is probably as good a bet as adding a couple of Segways.