Homer Williams is in love. The object of the developer's affection? Ginger--petite, speedy, agile as Fred Astaire, guaranteed to turn heads wherever she goes.
Ginger is the code name for the Segway HT, the innovative human transporter whose long and secretive gestation spawned a dozen outlandish theories. Would Project Ginger be a hovercraft that levitated above the sidewalk? A space-age glider straight out of The Jetsons?
As the world learned when the Segway was finally unveiled last December, Ginger is not that kind of machine. Resembling an old push-lawnmower, the two-wheeled, battery-powered device spirits a single rider around town at speeds of up to 12 miles per hour. Controlled by a gyroscope, the Segway detects the slightest movement in its rider, almost anticipating the need for a turn. "You think forward, you go forward. Think backward, you go backward," explains Williams giddily. "It's magic."
Williams heard of her--er, it--like the rest of us, through news reports. About two months ago, he contacted New Hampshire-based inventor Dean Kamen and snapped up two Segways for $6,000.
Williams thinks his new purchases are perfect for Portland. "We're trying to design the city of the 21st century and connect 12,000 people on a mountaintop," says Williams, a major force behind the North Macadam project and the skytram to Oregon Health & Sciences University.
There are a half-dozen Segways in town now, but Williams is proud to note that he was the very first local owner. Visitors to his offices eagerly take a turn on the machine. U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an avid bicyclist, dropped by for a test drive. When cameras are around, however, the stout Williams prefers to travel by foot. "I don't want to get ribbed about it," he says.