The PUMA concept that General Motors and Segway displayed at the 2009 New York auto show might have seemed like a quirky little experiment. But to Larry Burns, the PUMA (for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) vehicle -- essentially an enclosed two-person Segway -- could be part of the auto future in a crowded, energy-conscious urban world.
Burns, who recently retired as GM's head of r&d, is co-author of Reinventing the Automobile: Personal Urban Mobility for the 21st Century, published by MIT Press. His collaborators are Christopher Borroni-Bird, GM's director of advanced technology vehicle concepts, and William Mitchell, an MIT professor.
The future, as they see it, includes small EVs like the PUMA that are guided via an Internet connection to avoid collisions and congestion, linked to social networks and directed to efficient sources of battery recharging.
Burns says the technology is available today. If vehicle movements are coordinated, crashes could be avoided, resulting in lighter, energy-efficient cars. Global positioning systems and stability control already collect data about vehicle location and dynamics.
Most people also would have a standard vehicle for longer trips, he says. But in city centers, such a system could solve problems of congestion, air quality and parking.
For short low-speed city trips, an auto is overkill, Burns says: "When you look at moving around 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of mass when you want to move 200 pounds of body, no wonder there are energy and CO2 problems."