DATE February 10, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Inventor Dean Kamen discusses the new high-tech Segway Human
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The new high-tech scooter, known as the Segway Human Transporter will be
available to consumers starting in March. Most people seem to agree, it's a
pretty cool invention. Yet, there's a lot of worry surrounding its use. The
company that manufactures the Segway is lobbying for the right to use it on
sidewalks, and 33 states have passed legislation allowing that. But many
pedestrian and senior citizen groups are worried that these vehicles could
collide with pedestrians, causing serious injuries. A little later, we'll
hear from one of the activists who led the campaign banning the Segway from
the sidewalks of San Francisco.
First, we're going to hear from the Segway's inventor, Dean Kamen. Until the
Segway, he was best known for his medical inventions, including a portable
insulin pump, a kidney dialysis machine for home use, a heart stent and a
motorized wheelchair that can climb stairs. We'll talk about some of these
inventions later, but let's start with the Segway. I asked Dean Kamen to
describe what it looks like and how it works.
Mr. DEAN KAMEN (Inventor): The best way to describe how it works or how it
feels is like a pair of magic sneakers. It looks like a low platform, about
six inches high, on which you stand. And there's a small shaft, a handle,
comes up, which ends up looking like the handles of a bicycle, and you have
two wheels. But instead of like a bicycle, where they're one in front and one
in back, each one is just outside your left and right foot. So when you first
look at it, you'd say, `This thing must be unstable. It's missing either its
front or rear axle.' But in the platform that you're standing on, there are a
set of five gyroscopes that are sensing any kind of motion, acceleration, tilt
of the platform, and they feed nine different computers lots of information in
real time. And those computers send signals out to the wheels in such a way
that if the machine were even very slightly tipped forward, the wheels would
run under it forward; if the machine were tilted backward, they would run
GROSS: When you were researching the Segway and figuring out what the
computer is and the gyroscopes needed to do...
Mr. KAMEN: Yes.
GROSS: ...did you, like, walk a lot and try to analyze what your body was
doing as you were walking?
Mr. KAMEN: Well, actually, it's even more than that. The Segway really comes
from a medical product that I worked on for more than 10 years. I've spent
30--I have literally spent my entire adult life working on medical products,
and one that we started many, many, many years ago was a product that I
thought would be a way to give the disabled population a capability that
virtually no product addresses. Those people, whether they're in wheelchairs,
because they have no capability to move their legs, or if they're in a
wheelchair or using a walker or any other device because of--whether it's
Parkinson's disease or MS, we find ways to move those people around. But what
they've lost is the ability that we all take for granted to do something
uniquely human called walking.
And so the more I looked at wheelchairs and how to improve them, the more I
got frustrated. I mean, I could make a wheelchair climb stairs; you could
make it look like a bulldozer or a tank. But finally, after years of being
frustrated that we couldn't really do what we thought needed to be done, it
suddenly occurred to us why. And that is what they lost was the specific way
to move around by standing up and balancing and having a small footprint and
being with their colleagues in conversation eye-to-eye. And so we said, `You
know, let's not improve the wheelchair, let's figure out how to restore,
effectively, human balance.' And that set me on a 10-year expedition into
understanding this very subtle and, frankly, from an engineering point of
view, very difficult process of understanding balance and walking.
We did it. We built a device called an iBOT, which literally allows a
disabled person to cruise down the hallway at eye level with their peers,
balanced on two wheels, the way their peers are balanced on their feet. It
allows them to go--step up and down curbs and literally walk up and down
stairs. And we spent so much time trying to understand, and finally,
succeeding in understanding how humans ambulate and balance and walk that we
realized we could take the same technology and apply it to the Segway and make
this technology available to the rest of the population.
GROSS: So getting back to the actual design of the Segway, how do you steer
it and how do you adjust the speed of it?
Mr. KAMEN: Forward and back; there's no clutch, there's no brakes, there's no
throttle, there's no accelerator, there's no gearshift. There is only one
control on the whole machine. And in your left hand, almost like the throttle
would be on a motorcycle, there's a rotating member, and if you rotate it to
the left, like a little steering wheel, the machine turns to the left; if you
rotate it to the right, the machine turns to the right. That is the only
control on the machine. And when you combine that wrist coordination with
your thinking forward, thinking stop or thinking backwards, after a little
while, you literally can dance around a room. If you were just here, I would
just put you on the machine and you would cruise down the hall, you would turn
around, you would come back to me smiling. And when you got back to me, you
would just stop.
GROSS: No, so...
Mr. KAMEN: You wouldn't know how you stopped, you just stop and you'd smile
and you'd say, `I get it.'
GROSS: Are you saying that the--'cause the gyroscopes and the computers are
as--are very complicated and you couldn't explain how they work any easier
than you could explain how...
Mr. KAMEN: Oh, no, I can explain...
GROSS: ...our brains work.
Mr. KAMEN: Yeah, the way the gyros work, I could explain very easily.
Imagine that the gyroscope--and there's a bunch of them--and they're
redundant, so if something happens to one of them, it doesn't affect the
performance or safety of the machine--but a gyroscope is sitting there--for
instance, one of them is vertical, and it always wants to be vertical. And
if you stand on this platform--and since it only has two wheels and they're
side by side, any subtle motion of your body that puts your center of mass in
front of the point of contact of those wheels would start to tip the platform
forward. Everybody's familiar with that concept. That's why when they look
at this machine, they're so familiar with that concept, they say, `My God,
it'll fall over.' But as soon as it starts to tip by any amount, the gyros
sense that tip, they send information to the computers. The computers look at
how much it's tipping, how much the rate of change of tipping is either
increasing or decreasing and how much the rate of change of the rate of
change--in other words, the position, the velocity and the acceleration of
that platform are all being measured in real time very, very frequently. And
as a function of how much tip there is, those computers determine how much
power to send to the motors, so that the motors will torque those wheels to
run in the direction of the tip, so that they will return it to being vertical
while they move.
And so as you get on this machine, you never really feel a tipping, but if you
kind of start to lean forward, as if you were doing what you naturally do to
take a step, those motors will just make those wheels move you forward, while
the platform appears to you to not have leaned over very much. If you decide,
`I don't want to go any further,' your natural instinct is to kind of lean
back. And as soon as you lean back, the platform senses--or the gyros sense
that the platform is now leaning back, it takes the torque away from the
motors and stop it or, in fact, move it backwards.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Dean Kamen, and he is the
inventor of the Segway. Now a lot of pedestrian groups are very concerned
about the Segway. And San Francisco has banned the Segway on city streets.
The concerns include that a motorized vehicle on sidewalks or where
pedestrians walk can be threatening to pedestrians, particularly the elderly,
people who are frail, people whose walking is impaired, people whose hearing
is impaired and they might not notice that there's a vehicle behind them, but
really any pedestrian walking down the street could conceivably be injured by
a heavy, you know, motorized scooter or vehicle, whatever you'd want to call
it. So what's your argument for--on behalf of allowing Segways on sidewalks
of city streets?
Mr. KAMEN: Well, first, I'd like to say, you said that they were, I think the
word you used was banned from the streets of San Francisco. Actually, I
believe they're just fine on the streets of San Francisco. What we had
attempted to do...
GROSS: I meant sidewalks, yeah.
Mr. KAMEN: Well, a big difference, yeah.
Mr. KAMEN: Once we were able to make a device that moves like a pedestrian,
stops like a pedestrian, can spin in place and do pirouettes better than most
people except maybe a ballerina, we had a device that has a footprint as small
as a pedestrian. It leaves you at eye level with other people. Your
hands--again, it would be much easier to have this discussion with you or
anybody if you had some experience with the machine. But once a person uses
it and sort of adopts it as an extension of themselves, it becomes pretty
clear to anybody on it that you certainly wouldn't want to be out in the
street in front of a bus. You're standing there, you're backing up, you're
spinning around like any other pedestrian, you're just a little bit more
GROSS: Yeah, but here's the thing. Say you're walking down the street, you
know, and I'll just speak for myself here. I'm usually walking down the
street oblivious 'cause I'm thinking about something and I'm not necessarily
thinking about where I am or what's going on around me. And then I might
suddenly stop and say, `Did I bring my keys?' You know, and suddenly,
I've--I've suddenly stopped, I've checking for my keys. Say there's a Segway
right behind me that's going three times the speed that I'm walking. The
Segway won't necessarily be able to stop as quickly as I've stopped. So, I
mean, that's the kind of, I think, typical pedestrian concern.
Mr. KAMEN: I think that is the typical pedestrian concern, and that's why I
think we need to educate people and let them experience this. Because, in
fact, if somebody were behind you and you were walking along on a crowded
sidewalk and they were behind you, they wouldn't be going three times as fast
as you. And if you were to stop, your natural instinct to stop, even if you
suddenly stopped quickly, their natural instinct would be about the same and
the stopping distances at the--from the same speeds are about the same. I can
simply tell you that in a hundred thousand hours of use now on the sidewalks,
there's been no such occurrence.
GROSS: But, you know, here's the thing. It's a little difficult to judge
from experiences to this point because how many people have Segways? So if
there's a Segway being used on a sidewalk, it might be the only Segway in
town. If it really catches on and there's lots of people in city sidewalks
using the Segway, then the whole nature of pedestrian traffic patterns starts
Mr. KAMEN: And, frankly, we hope you're right. And, again, we've thought
about that for many years. The first thing I would say is I agree with you.
We don't have a lot of experience, and the only way to get experience with any
new thing is to be open-minded and try it. And all we have been doing, as we
go around the country trying to show people what this option might do for
them, is to have them say, `Let's try it.' But I would also tell you that as
we gain experience and see that they mix well with pedestrians, to your
question, which was what happens when there's a lot of them, I guess there's
many answers. But if it turns out that there are not going to be a lot of
them, then this isn't an issue worth anybody's big concern. If it turned out
there would be a lot of them, then what will happen is the infrastructure will
make appropriate adjustments.
GROSS: Dean Kamen invented the Segway Human Transporter. We'll talk about
his medical inventions later in the show, but first, we'll hear why and how
San Francisco banned the Segway from the city's sidewalks. That's after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Dean Kamen. Earlier in
the show, we talked about his invention, the Segway Human Transporter. Most
of his inventions are in the medical field, and several have changed the lives
and even extended the lives of the people who use them.
What was your first invention?
Mr. KAMEN: As a little kid, I was always frustrated that my mother, like
everybody's mother, would tell me to make my bed in the morning. And when
you're not much taller than the mattress, it takes a lot of trips running
completely around the bed to get the cover up on one side and then up an even
amount on the other side. And then, at night, you tend to muss it all up. So
it occurred to me that if I attached a pulley to each corner of the blanket
and tied the other two corners at the foot of the bed to the rails, then in
the morning, if the pulleys at the two top corners were properly organized, I
could just take a rope, pull it and the cover would immediately spring to its
normal condition and I, quote, "made the bed." So it dramatically reduced the
trauma of having to do that.
GROSS: Your mother must have thought you were crazy.
Mr. KAMEN: I had very, very understanding parents.
GROSS: So how long did you use this bed-making system?
Mr. KAMEN: Oh, my guess is until the novelty wore off. But I guess
my--the--what was good about that experience to me was the idea that you
could see a problem, think about solutions, some abstract idea, then with a
couple of tools, you could reduce that abstract idea to some physical reality
that solved the problem. And although I don't think there'd be a big
commercial opportunity in bed makers, it sort of gave me a sense through the
rest of my life that you look at the world, you find things that ought to be
done differently to get a better outcome, and then you use more sophisticated
tools than I had back then, like physics and engineering, and you reduce those
abstract ideas to real products and help real people have a better life.
GROSS: What was the first invention you sold?
Mr. KAMEN: The first invention I sold were--I guess today you'd call them
light organs or it was--as I was in high school, the world of semiconductors
was exploding. And instead of transistors being able only to produce small
amounts of power, for instance, to move the speakers in your headset, they
made huge advances to where they could control thousands of watts. I think,
personally, that was the birth of the disco as the result of the world of
semiconductors. But you could take the output of that little amplifier that
was running your speakers, run it through some of these kinds of new
transistors called Triax and SCRs and you could literally have the whole room,
all the power, lights in the room respond like music. I recognized that kids
would like to do that in bands in these early days, and I started building
equipment that would let them build light shows. I then started using the
same equipment to run much more sophisticated light shows and, in fact, built
the equipment that ran the Museum of Natural History Hayden Planetarium light
show pretty much when I was in high school and going into college, and then
started building boxes like that to run other museum shows and industrial
shows. And I would take the money that I got from building these control
boxes and just buy equipment with it, more electronic equipment,
oscilloscopes, etc., until I finally filled up my parent's basement with a
whole electronics shop.
Mr. KAMEN: And then my--at the time, my older brother was in medical school.
And he would come home on the weekends and he would start to complain about
his problems, like he was studying--he's an MD, PhD, and he was studying
pediatric--very serious pediatric problems, like leukemia in babies. And he'd
come home and he'd say, `You know, they make all this great equipment to
deliver drugs to patients in the hospital, but all these patients are, you
know, adults.' And suddenly, he had these great ideas on how to use new kinds
of drugs to treat these preemies or pediatric patients. But none of the
equipment could scale down to deliver these small volumes, and they couldn't
fit in isolates. And I suddenly started thinking that I was, you know,
wasting my time building what were then silly devices when I could think about
how to help him or make devices that might help these babies live.
GROSS: So why don't you just list some the things--some of the medical
inventions that you've come up with?
Mr. KAMEN: So in those early days, I started building very small pumps to
deliver drugs to babies. My brother used them while he was in medical school.
We got exposed to a great community of research hospitals--Harvard, Yale--and
as a result of getting feedback from different fields of medicine--hematology,
oncology--I started building a whole line of miniature wearable pumps,
eventually ending up building a wearable pump for diabetics to deliver their
insulin a number of years later. And that whole medical company we then sold.
We then went on to build other kinds of medical equipment, still in some ways,
for delivering or measuring fluid. We started building home portable
dialysis equipment, so people wouldn't have to spend two or three nights a
week in a hospital being dialyzed. And we build things like stents, these
devices made famous by the fact that Vice President Cheney has one of ours in
him, but a small device that goes into the artery that you can get there via a
catheter instead of by open heart surgery. And we built the iBOT. We've
already spoken about that, but that was a device to help the disabled
community regain essentially the same capability that people have if they can
balance and walk.
GROSS: My guest is inventor Dean Kamen. We'll talk more after our break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Dean Kamen. He invented the new high-tech scooter known
as the Segway Human Transporter. He's also invented lifesaving and
life-enhancing medical innovations, including a kidney dialysis machine for
home use, a portable insulin pump and a wheelchair that climbs stairs. You
may also be familiar with the work of his father, Jack Kamen.
Your father was a comic book artist. He did comics for EC Comics and also
drew for Mad magazine. Did he kind of, by example, show you that daydreaming
could actually pay off?
Mr. KAMEN: You know, people have asked me for most of my adult life why I
chose to do what I do, and I have a lot of different answers. It was only a
couple of years ago--and I guess due to the notoriety of some of our things
that people like you would say, `What impact did your father have on you?'
And one of them actually answered the question, rather than asked it and said,
`Since your father was an entrepreneur, is that why you're an entrepreneur?'
And I looked right back at her and said, `My father's not an entrepreneur.
He's an artist. He doesn't know anything about business. My mother teaches
bookkeeping in high school, and as far as I know, she's written every check in
their marriage for the last 56 years. My father is an artist. You can't be
further from an entrepreneur.' And she looked at me and said, `Well, he was
self-employed. He creates things and goes off and presents them to the world,
and they either accept them or not.' And it literally, for the first time,
occurred to me that I probably in many ways have my perspective on the world
due to the influence of my father.
GROSS: Do you have any favorite comics or Mad magazine things that your
father's done over the years?
Mr. KAMEN: I have been collecting now for many years all the original art I
can get that he did. And since comics have now become quite a collector's
item, it's getting easier to find them. They're more expensive. You can go
to Sotheby auctions now and get the originals.
The most favorite one I have is the only comic I know that actually turned out
to have a context of being about the artist. And it was done by Bill Gaines,
then the owner-publisher of EC Comics. And he had asked my father to
illustrate a horror story. And the running joke in the industry back then was
my father was very good at drawing beautiful women, very sensual but was
terrible at the horror, the blood and guts with the heads ripped off in the
comics. He just didn't do that. And the theme of the story--it's only a
six-page story--was that it starts out that my father was called into Bill
Gaines' office and is fired because he can't make horrible drawings. And he
says, `Oh, yes, I can.' In the remaining frames, he goes home to talk to
Evelyn, which is my mother's real name. And there she stands with a baby in
her arms in one of these frames and that's my older brother--or actually, my
older brother is standing next to her. He's about four years old, and I'm in
her arms. And for some reason, Bill Gaines used the real names, my mother who
he knew well, us as children and the story becomes--it comes to a happy ending
because it was, in fact, a nightmare. It was done probably in 1953 or '54. I
got the original of it. It's called "Kamen's Kalamity," calamity spelled with
a K. And the original of it was out in California. And I guess it's my
favorite because my father was--he never wrote any of the dialogue, any
of--that's not what he does. He was an illustrator. But this whole thing was
written about my father and his capability in art. And I have it hanging in
my house right now.
GROSS: So what are some of the comic series that your father illustrated?
Mr. KAMEN: My father was an illustrator for "Shock(ph)," "Horror(ph)," almost
all the suspense stories of EC Comics, "Tales From The Crypt," "Psycho." He
did, I believe, at least one story in every one of the EC series. And he did
some Mad magazine.
GROSS: Did you read a lot of comics as a kid?
Mr. KAMEN: I'm embarrassed to tell you I never read comics as a kid.
GROSS: So, so many people, so many kids grew up with parents who thought that
comic books were terrible and wanted to throw them out. Here you are, growing
up with a father who's actually drawing the comic books, and you didn't even
read them, right?
Mr. KAMEN: Well, I have to tell you, not only did parents think that, but in
the early days of McCarthyism, they actually banned comic books.
GROSS: I know. I know.
Mr. KAMEN: And that put my father in jeopardy. In fact, one of the reasons
Mad magazine came to be was Bill Gaines, the owner-publisher of EC, suddenly
found himself banned from selling his product. And he recognized that they
have these kind of web presses and this space in the corner drugstore. What
could they do instead of comic books? And Mad magazine came out of that. And
my father, who was an artist for them in the days of EC, then moved into doing
that. My mother, of course, then had a pair of twins right after me, and
quickly decided that my father would be much better off doing serious
commercial art than comic books. And he went free-lance soon after that and
never went back.
GROSS: Right. Now in addition to collecting your father's comic books, you
collect old machines. Do you take them apart and see how they work?
Mr. KAMEN: I certainly do that, but I think you learn a whole lot more about
the people than the machines. But when you look at a hundred-year-old
technology, you look at what they were thinking, what...
GROSS: Tell me about a favorite machine in your collection that's led you to
interesting thoughts about humans and how they interact with machines.
Mr. KAMEN: Well, in almost every case, when you look at machinery from a
hundred years ago, what you realize is that people were focused on different
kinds of issues and they had a different perspective of life. For instance, I
have not only a hundred-year-old machine, but the owner's manual that came
with it. And it's a huge diesel engine. This engine, which happens to be
sitting in my house, probably weighs 5,000 pounds. And it turned at such a
low speed, you would actually see the rotating parts work, and yet, the
bearings were huge. Individual bronze bearings must weigh 10 pounds apiece.
And in the front page of the owner's manual, it says something like `Proper
care and attention to your engine will give you and your family generations of
reliable service.' Now think of a product you've bought in your lifetime that
you would consider something that you intend to give you and your family
generations of reliable service. Your computer, by the time you buy it, is
Mr. KAMEN: You know, things that we make that are held together by glue or
Velcro or plastic flexible hinges, there's almost no product you buy today
that'll be operative in a few years. People had a very different perspective,
so the way they built things were very different. The way they made parts
or--them accessible were very different. What they wanted the user to know
about them were very different. And as you look at the technology, how it was
created, what the intended goal was, you realize that there's much more in
looking at old machines. And frankly, many of them are just beautiful. They
would put curves and shapes in their cast iron castings that were there for
nothing but aesthetics at a time when making curves and shapes was much more
difficult than it is today with computer-controlled equipment. And today, we
don't bother to do it. In old machinery, aesthetics was very important.
GROSS: Now I've read that you don't sleep very much, and I was wondering
whether that was because you can't sleep or you don't want to sleep.
Mr. KAMEN: I'm not even sure that it's true that I don't sleep very much. I
just tend to be up all night. But I don't get up real early in the morning
like a lot of people do, and it was a struggle for me to get here on time
today. I would say I go to bed at two or three in the morning, unless
something exciting is going on, in which case I might work all night.
Although, these days, I'm less capable of doing that than I used to be. But
my theory on sleep is you don't go to bed until you're so tired that you know
your head's going to hit the pillow and you're out, because thrashing around
and wasting time that you could be working is just a bad thing. The problem
with that, of course, is if you don't happen to get tired at the right time,
you won't go to bed until you're out of sequence with your colleagues. And
then if you go to bed at three or four or five in the morning, you're unlikely
to be up at seven when they want to have their 8:00 breakfast meeting. I then
add--to the issue of only go to bed when you're tired, I would add the
addendum and only wake up when nature says it's time. So I hate having an
alarm clock. If you're asleep, it's because your body wants to sleep. So it
makes scheduling early morning meetings very difficult for me.
GROSS: Well, thanks for showing up for our 9:30 AM interview. One last
question, you--I know you have a private plane. I think you have a private
helicopter. You obviously have a Segway or two around. I assume you have a
car. Do you know how the planes work? I mean, being this inveterate
inventor, do you have to like know how the plane works before you like to fly
Mr. KAMEN: Oh, for sure. And actually, the main reason I originally got into
helicopters is because I was fascinated by the dynamics of a helicopter. And
it's, you know--although helicopters and airplanes both fly, they're very,
very different kinds of technologies. And, in fact, I ended up owning the
company that built the helicopter I fly.
GROSS: Oh, sure.
Mr. KAMEN: I don't anymore. I don't anymore, but I was excited to understand
them. And, yes, I do a lot to understand the technology and part of the fun
to me of having these machines is the learning experience of staying up with
the technology that's in them.
GROSS: I'm going to squeeze in one more question. Have you actually needed
to use any of the medical inventions that you've created?
Mr. KAMEN: Oh, I personally have not had to use them. Unfortunately, a
number of my family members have had to use some of the products we've made.
I have to tell you that I've always been excited and I--you feel really good
when you make a medical product that you know helps people. But I've always
felt frustrated that I've never, ever wanted any of my friends or anybody I
know to ever have to use my products, the labor of, you know, my life and one
of the exciting things to us about building the Segway Human Transporter is
we're finally building a product that we would actually like other people to
want to buy. You know, nobody says, `Dean, that's a great stent. I can't
wait until my coronary artery clogs,' or `Boy, what a neat dialysis machine
you've made. I can't wait until my kidneys fail.' Nobody has ever said to
me, `That iBOT is such a neat machine that I'm looking forward to that
paralyzing auto accident.' So I work very hard in the medical product area,
and I go to bed always feeling really good when you know it works and you're
helping people. But it's a whole different story than just watching people
light up when you let them try the Segway Human Transporter.
GROSS: Dean Kamen, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KAMEN: Thank you.
GROSS: Dean Kamen invented many medical innovations, as well as the Segway
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Bruce Lee Livingston discusses the controversy
surrounding the use of the Segway Human Transporter and his efforts
to have it banned from sidewalks in San Francisco
TERRY GROSS, host:
The Segway Human Transporter will be available to consumers starting next
month. It's already being used in the Disney planned community of
Celebration, Florida, as well as at Disney theme parks. The post office has
tested Segways for mail deliveries and is still evaluating the results.
Several police departments have experimented with the Segway. The Atlanta
police are testing the Segway at Hartsfield Airport. The Los Angeles Metro
Transit Authority just purchased some Segways for evaluation.
The biggest controversy surrounding the Segway surrounds its use on sidewalks,
where critics say it could be dangerous for pedestrians. Thirty-three states
have passed laws allowing the Segway on sidewalks. San Francisco is the first
and currently the only city to ban the Segway from its sidewalks. I spoke
with Bruce Lee Livingston, who helped lead the opposition. He's the executive
director of the Senior Action Network and is a longtime health and
environmental activist. He says that seniors are particularly vulnerable to
being hurt by a Segway on the sidewalk.
Mr. BRUCE LEE LIVINGSTON (Executive Director, Senior Action Network): There's
no question that seniors are especially vulnerable. When they are knocked
down, they can suffer a bone injury that can be permanent. It's the classic
case of the hip injury. And they might not necessarily be able to move out of
the way as fast as other people. But it's not just seniors. It's everybody
who uses the sidewalk. We cannot allow every new instrument that's invented
to be put on the sidewalks to replace pedestrians. We have to put new
commuter vehicles or any other vehicle in the road. The only vehicles we
allow on the sidewalks are motorized wheelchairs, which people with
disabilities use. So we can't just allow them to be congested with other
GROSS: Is it possible that seniors would actually benefit if they were able
to use Segways on the sidewalk, because a lot of seniors have trouble walking
more than a block or so and they don't necessarily drive? So, you know, you
could make the argument that this Segway would enable them to go shopping, to
visit friends who live nearby but slightly too far away to walk.
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Well, I don't even think I've heard the company try to make
that argument because, you know, you have to stand up on the Segway scooter.
You have to find a way to carry things on the scooter. But even if you had a
few seniors that were mobile and strong enough to use a Segway scooter, you
would have to worry about the other ones who are on the sidewalk who can't use
them. So we just can't put these new vehicles out there to the detriment of
everybody else who uses the sidewalk.
GROSS: Did you try a Segway yourself?
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Well, actually, I did. It's become a little bit of a famous
incident. When we were asking the state not to pass the law allowing the
Segway scooters, the corporation asked that they meet with us and they brought
the scooter up into our boardroom. And I got on it and I'm fairly athletic,
and I wanted to see what you could do with it if you had malintent, and I ran
into five chairs and they flew across the room. And, you know, it's got the
self-stopping system that if you want to stop and you're aware, you can stop
it. But if you want to accelerate, it has tremendous acceleration and
tremendous power. So that's what happened, and we were shocked at how much
power it had. So if somebody's not paying attention or if someone has
malintent or perhaps even if somebody is drunk--so we'd like to see our
agencies take a look at this and not just, you know, abdicate their
responsibility and leave it up to little cities to try to figure out whether
it's safe or not.
GROSS: San Francisco was the first city in the nation to ban Segways from the
sidewalk. You were part of the campaign to convince the city supervisors to
ban the Segway. Was it a hard sell on your part?
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Well, like everything, it's a hard sell. There was a lot of
lobbying by the corporation and, as I said, they have lobbied extensively
throughout the country. But we have a very strong and mobile active senior
voice here, and half of our pedestrian deaths are senior citizens. And we
just had to say that this is a pedestrian safety issue as it should be.
GROSS: What were your impressions of the Segway lobby when this bill was
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Well, in California, the Segway Corporation hired a group
that we refer to as Kapow(ph), which is the largest lobbying firm in
Sacramento. And they hired them, they brought their scooter into the Capitol
and got people on this thing. It's a wonderful technology. It is actually
fun, which is why we're glad to see that it's being used on Disney cruises and
I think it's going to be used in some other Disney locations. But we think it
should be tested out in small environments, in amusement parks and it should
be tested for street use possibly in bicycle lanes.
What they did was they very rapidly put it through with this pro-environment
kind of rhetoric. And here in California, we found out about that very late.
If it's going to be pro-environment, it has to be, again, on the streets. So
there wasn't much we could do. It was already in the second house and the
Appropriations Committee. You can't testify on anything except perhaps
insurance issues. So it was very far along in the process, and it's just
unfortunate that what happens is it gets left up to the cities. We made sure
that there was legislation wording that very clearly said that we could ban it
at the local levels, but that's a tremendous effort. So now it's going on in
many cities and areas in the Bay Area, such as Santa Cruz, San Mateo,
Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland. They're all considering ordinances now to ban
it from the sidewalks.
GROSS: Do you think the Segway is safe on the streets? You're banning it
from the sidewalks in San Francisco, but do you think it's safe on the
streets? And I ask this because, you know, in a lot of cities, the lanes
aren't very wide. There isn't necessarily a bicycle lane. So you've got cars
going at one speed in the same area that you've got bicycles going at a slower
speed and now Segways going at an even slower speed.
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Well, it may not be safe on the streets, and that's something
the corporation will have to deal with and our public agency should look at.
But we shouldn't, therefore, put it on the sidewalk and threaten walkers. We
should look at this new technology as an opportunity. Let's thoroughly test
it. In the environmental movement, we call it the precautionary principle,
which is that before we put something out on the market, we should do some
testing, have some precautions and make sure that it's safe. So this is an
opportunity to get something that's good for the environment out there.
Is it as safe as a bicycle or a motorcycle which is on the streets? I'm not
sure. Maybe we need helmet laws or knee pads. I certainly think we should
have insurance requirements and age limits and we should limit its off-road
use. But we wanted to make sure and we went out very quickly saying that it
does not belong on the sidewalks. That's why we had to do that. We knew we
could pass that kind of ordinance. That's what we recommend other cities
throughout the nation to do is to look at: Are your sidewalks wide enough?
GROSS: When you did test out the Segway, I know you weren't a practiced user
of it, but just, you know, as a novice stepping on for the first time, did you
feel like you could control it?
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Yes, I could. However, one of our senior activists, Jean
Lynch, got on it and she was terrified. And the Segway folks said, `Well, we
would like to provide training for anybody who uses the scooter.' That's not
required by law, and there will be knock-offs if this is legal. So it won't
be necessarily offered by any other corporations. So it is intimidating. You
do have to learn to balance.
GROSS: Well, Bruce Lee Livingston, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. LIVINGSTON: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Bruce Lee Livingston is the executive director of the Senior Action
Network in San Francisco.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: And Ken Tucker reviews the new CD by Shania Twain.
(Soundbite of music)
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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Review: Shania Twain's new album, "Up!"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Country star Shania Twain's previous album "Come On Over" sold 19 million
copies, thus becoming the sixth best-selling album of all time; tied with The
Beatles "White Album." Rock critic Ken Tucker says Twain's new selection
called "Up!" is trying to guarantee similar success. It contains two discs
each with the same 19 songs, but one with country arrangements; the other
recorded with rock instrumentation. Here's Ken's review.
(Soundbite of "Forever and for Always")
Ms. SHANIA TWAIN: (Singing) In your arms, I can still feel the way you want
me when you hold me. I can still hear the words you whispered when you told
me I can stay right here forever in your arms.
KEN TUCKER reporting:
Like that song, called "Forever and for Always," with its loping Johnny
Cash-style rhythm? No? Then how about this version?
(Soundbite of "Forever and for Always")
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) In your arms, I can still feel the way you want me when
you hold me. I can still hear the words you whispered when you told me I can
stay right here forever in your arms. And...
TUCKER: That's the pop-rock edition of "Forever and for Always," with the
fiddle and mandolin removed. I think that's the better version. Its
arrangement is so clear and crisp; its pretty melody and Twain's effulgent
choral vocal leaps out at you.
Twain's producer, who also happens to be her husband, is Mutt Lange, who made
his rep by refining pop-metal acts like Def Leppard and AC/DC. Lange
specializes in isolating a song's hook and bringing it forward in the mix,
giving it a propulsive spin that comes whipping at you like a razor-edged
Frisbee. Listen to the way he does it in the chorus of "Up!" the pop version.
(Soundbite of "Up!")
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) It's 'bout as bad as it could be. Seems everybody's
bugging me. Like nothing wants to go my way, yeah, it just ain't been my day;
nothing's coming easily. Even my skin is acting weird. I wish that I could
grow a beard. Then I could cover all my spots, not play connect-the-dots. I
just wanna disappear.
Up, up, up, can only go up from here. Up, up, up where the clouds don't
appear. Up, up, there's nowhere but up from here.
Even something as simple as...
TUCKER: Selling listeners a package that contains two discs of the same songs
sounds, in theory, like commercial cynicism. But it's actually fund to
compare versions while being part of Mutt Lange's master plan to broaden
Twain's fan base. A Canadian who's about as traditional country as Olivia
Newton-John was when she stuffed herself down Nashville's throat 25 years ago,
Twain doesn't have any authenticity issues to deal with. In a way, what Twang
and Lange are doing is more honest than most current country stars who record
watery pop songs, mix in a Dobro and some pedal steel here and there and
expect Nashville to crown them the new George Jones or Patsy Cline.
Twain couldn't care less about the grand tradition. In fact, overseas there's
yet a third version of these songs release, overdubbed with sitars and East
Indian instrumentation. As she says on this song, she's out to getcha, and
it's only a matter of time and geography.
(Soundbite of "I'm Gonna Getcha Good!")
Ms. TWAIN: Ah. Let's go. Don't want you for the weekend. Don't want you
for a night. I'm only interested if I can have you for life. Yeah. I know I
sound serious, and, baby, I am. You're a fine piece of real estate, and I'm
gonna get me some land. Oh, yeah. So don't try to run, honey. Love can be
fun. There's no need to be alone when you find that someone.
Backup Singer: I'm gonna getcha.
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) I'm gonna getcha while I gotcha inside.
Backup Singer: I'm gonna getcha.
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) I'm gonna getcha if it takes all night.
Backup Singer: Yeah, you can betcha.
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) You can betcha by the time I say `go,' you'll never say
Backup Singer: I'm gonna getcha.
Ms. TWAIN: (Singing) I'm gonna getcha you, it's a matter of fact...
TUCKER: I can understand if you're put off by the slickness of this entire
enterprise, but for me, in the right mood, this music can be like a drug. Its
hooks are so addictive, I can listen to it over and over. Twain is making
terrific pop-rock-country schlock; a new variation in a history of disposable
music that would include everything from ABBA to The Archies. There's no
point in being snobbish about it; its allure is undeniable. It's gonna
getcha; it's just a matter of time.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
We'll close with a recording of the trumpeter Ruby Braff. He died over the
weekend, just a few weeks shy of his 76th birthday. He had been in declining
health since September. This is Braff's 1988 recording of "I'm Shooting
High," a song that was also recorded by the trumpeter who most influenced
Braff, Louis Armstrong.
(Soundbite of "I'm Shooting High")
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.