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Open Source Segway 10 December 2001 Edition
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Given the huge critical mass of developers who have jumped onboard the open source software initiative and contributed to the design and development of some great software -- I wonder how long before we see an open source version of Dean Kamen's new scooter, the Segway.

As this Wired story describes, the heart of Segway's stability is an array of solid-state gyroscopes which determine the position of the little vehicle's control column in respect to true vertical.

You might be forgiven for thinking that these solid state gyros are expensive and difficult to source -- perhaps the type of component that would be reserved for expensive avionics or military use -- but they're not.

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Thanks to the demand created by the model helicopter community, there are now a wide range of low cost solid state gyros now readily available.

What's more, the "heading hold" variety would make the construction of a rather simple Segway exceedingly simple.

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    By my reckoning, it would be possible to build a fairly simple open source Segway from readily available components for under NZ$1,000 -- possibly a whole lot less if you don't need much range.

    The high-power, high-efficiency rare-earth motors which have once again been made affordable by the demands of the modelling community would provide excellent drive motors and the high-capacity nicad batteries used in electric model cars would be just one power option.

    Of course once the software hackers got involved, all sorts of dynamics could be added to the simple gyro feedback to provide a far more stable and predictable ride. This could be accomplished through the use of simple, low-cost, single-board microprocessors and a bit of code cutting.

    This then begs the question -- would it be legal?

    Perhaps some patent attorney could enlighten us -- but it's my understanding (mistaken as it might be) that there's little to stop an individual from building a patented device for his/her own use -- it's just illegal to manufacture for others or to exploit for profit.

    How would Dean Kamen feel if tens, or hundreds of thousands of pimply-faced geeks around the globe collaborated to design their own Segway that cost just a tiny fraction of the real thing?

    Of course, before the arrival of the Internet, collaboration on the scale that we currently see in the open source movement was impractical. Slow and expensive telecommunications meant that such activities would have been the domain of the rich and eccentric.

    Do we have another clash between the Net and intellectual property rights looming here?

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