Ginger launch takes hype biscuit

It was supposed to be bigger than the Internet. But at the launch on Monday, Ginger was revealed to be a four-foot-tall motorised walking stick - albeit with some very clever technology

He calls it a Segway Human Transporter. Thousands of eager novelty hunters have talked about Ginger or simply It. But while inventor Dean Kamen kept absolutely silent for years about what It actually was, speculation ranged from jetpacks to groundbreaking engines, even as far as anti-gravity devices and Star Trek transporter beams. It was unveiled on Monday, and it's an electric scooter. You can see a video of the device here on CNET News.com.

Dean Kamen had previously made his fortune -- and a name for considerable eccentricity -- on the back of medical devices such as insulin pumps and portable dialysis machines. More recently, he produced the iBot, a wheelchair that climbed stairs, and on the basis of that research decided to make electrical transportation for the rest of us.

Ginger -- so called because the wheelchair was nicknamed Fred Upstairs -- has two large wheels mounted either side of a platform upon which the rider stands. A system of gyroscopes and tilt sensors, designed by British Aerospace, senses the way the rider distributes their weight and steers Ginger accordingly. By emulating the way humans walk, it is supposedly impossible to overbalance -- Dean Kamen describes the effect as "magic sneakers". The device travels at a maximum speed of 20 km/h, weighs 36kg and has a range of around 28km on a single charge. At a cost of around £2000, it is one of the more expensive ways of carrying a single person.

Reaction in the ZDNet news office has ranged from the gently amused to the frankly incredulous. Objections to it include lack of carrying space, difficulty in leaving it anywhere safely, insurance, unsuitability for road, pavement or cycling pathway use, and price compared to mopeds or pushbikes.

"It looks like a lawnmower", said one source close to the news team, "and if only it was, I'd buy one. It would be a great way to cut the grass."

If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away.

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