[FOUNTAIN]Segwaying into 21st century

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[FOUNTAIN]Segwaying into 21st century

In his later years, Henry Ford (1863 - 1947), the automobile mogul, once engaged in a small argument with a young boy. The boy, thinking Mr. Ford was biased against formal education, said: "The world has changed. We are living in a modern society."

Mr. Ford responded with a smile. "Son, I am the one who invented 'modern.'"

This anecdote is from "People of the 20th Century," published by the Hankyoreh newspaper.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Co. Although Mr. Ford neither invented nor was first to employ standardized components in production, he was chiefly responsible for the general adoption of this method in the production of the Model T, making the 20th century the century of the automobile. Fordism refers to mass production and mass consumption; it is a term that denotes a modern society.

What will be the Model T of the 21st century? The Segway Human Transporter, which emerged late last year, accompanied by admiration that eulogized it as an "invention comparable to the Internet," will be a strong candidate.

The Segway is a kind of small scooter. It operates on rechargeable batteries, running 24 kilometers on a six-hour charge. When its rider leans forward, it goes forward, and if the driver leans back, it stops. There are two types of Segways being developed, one weighs 29 kilograms and the other 36 kilograms. How valuable this invention could be becomes clear when you think of the crowded city and the inevitable traffic congestion and ever-present skirmishes over parking spaces. Already, 20 of the 50 states in the United States have passed laws allowing operation of Segways on their streets.

Last week, Atlanta police employed Segways on patrols, and several nonprofit organizations bought 10 of them for around $9,000 a piece. The price is still too high and the Segway is still transport to complement cars, not replace them. A mass-produced Segway could cost just $2,000.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, is as intriguing as his latest invention. Mr. Kamen, 51, does not have a bachelor's degree, yet he holds more than 150 patents.

He invented a portable insulin pump when he was a teenager. He struck a bonanza in 1999 with a wheelchair that could walk up and down the stairs.

During an interview with Time magazine last year, he said the Segway is revolutionary, because a person weighing 70 kilograms does not need a 1 metric-ton car to transport him. Will Mr. Kamen be the Henry Ford of the 21st century?

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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