Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MEMS-enabled PUMA: Look at the possibilities

I feel like it is 1909, rather than 2009, as I hear a derisive chorus of "get a horse" from much of the media mocking the MEMS-enabled PUMA prototype electric vehicle from General Motors and Segway.

An automotive correspondent from Newsweek wrote on Twitter that he "thinks the GM Segway vehicle is a farce." And even the editor of, who should know how to spot possibilities better than other journalists, Tweeted: "NOte to GM: car with no door = FAIL."

It is likely the PUMA uses the same MEMS gyro/accelerometer cluster as the Segway, which last I heard was supplied by the UK MEMS company Silicon Sensing Systems.

The mockery doesn't say much for the vision of many in my profession ... again. It seems like members of the news media -- the survivors who are left employed, anyway -- would have learned from the recent past to recognize the early stages of something that could potentially change everything. But, even now as newspapers close and bleed jobs, many continue to lovingly clutch onto their dinosaurs, failing to look up to see the meteor looming in the sky.

A century ago, those funny, noisy, slow horseless carriages seemed as much a ridiculous joke as perhaps the rickety-looking GM/Segway electric carriage might seem now. But, as most Small Times readers know, the thing to look for is not always right in front of you. We cover, for the most part, enabling technologies -- the invisible "stuff" on the inside that enhances existing products or enables new ones.

Like the Segway, itself -- also a subject of tech-writer derision when first unveiled -- entrepreneurs look at the capabilities of a prototype like the PUMA and see how the enabling technologies can be used to fit their own visions of how a "smart" vehicle should run.

Writers based in New York, or Detroit, at times fail to realize that the world does not necessarily look like their own familiar surroundings. Newly prosperous residents of jam-packed cities in Asia, for example, are all looking to become "American-style" consumers. But the level of traffic congestion that would suggest is not possible if we are truly going to reduce greenhouse gases.

Let 'em walk, ride bikes or take buses? Easy for the current "haves" to say.

No, I look at the PUMA, and see possibilities. And, I suspect, so do the engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs who read these pages.

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