GM EN-V: The Pac-Man-Like Future Of Urban Travel?S

This is the GM EN-V, short for "Electric Networked-Vehicle," an autonomously-driving tech-heavy two-seater pod co-developed with Segway and designed to one day replace cars for short trips in cities. Will it work?

The EN-V is a Pac-Man-like podlike successor to the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (P.U.M.A.), a Segway co-designed toy first shown at the New York Auto Show to prove former GM CEO Fritz Henderson was cool, hip and "with it." Although the P.U.M.A. failed spectacularly at its mission, the EN-V looks like something with a bit more thought put into it.

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EN-V's platform has evolved from the platform of that first prototype co-developed with Segway in April 2009. Segway has worked collaboratively with GM to develop and deliver multiple copies of the drivetrain platform that seamlessly connect to and power the various EN-Vs. We guess that means this is Segway's "Hail Mary" attempt at relevancy. As an aside, you know you're in trouble as a company when you're hitching your future to a bankrupt company from Detroit.

EN-V is propelled by electric motors in each of its two driving-mode wheels. Dynamic stabilization technology — similar to what the "normal" Segway uses — empowers EN-V, giving it the unique ability to carry two passengers and light cargo in a footprint that's about a third of a traditional vehicle. We're toldiIt can literally "turn on a dime" within its own operating envelope. In addition, everything in EN-V is drive-by-wire, supporting its ability to operate autonomously or under manual control. The motors not only provide power for acceleration, but also bring the vehicle to a stop.

Power for the motors is provided by lithium-ion batteries and recharging can occur from a conventional wall outlet using standard household power, allowing EN-V to travel at least 40 km on a single charge.

By combining the Global Positioning System (GPS) with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and distance-sensing technologies, the EN-V concept can be driven both manually and autonomously.

GM EN-V: The Pac-Man-Like Future Of Urban Travel?S

Its autonomous operating capability offers the promise of reducing traffic congestion by allowing EN-V to automatically select the fastest route based on real-time traffic information. The concept also leverages wireless communications to enable a "social network" that can be used by drivers and occupants to communicate with friends or business associates while on the go.

This combination of sensing technology, wireless communication and GPS-based navigation establishes a technology foundation, pieces of which could migrate from the EN-V concept and potentially lead the way to future advanced vehicle safety systems.

We're told they'll be showing three EN-V models today in Shanghai, each representing three different characteristics designed to emphasize the enjoyable nature of future transportation: Jiao (Pride), Miao (Magic) and Xiao (Laugh). The concepts will be showcased from May 1 through October 31 at the SAIC-GM Pavilion at World Expo 2010 Shanghai. Thanks to China's booming population and both their and China's love of all things odd-looking by technologically futuristic, Shanghai is expected to become one of the epicenters for the establishment of personal mobility solutions for the future.

So our thoughts? First of all, it's hard to be considered a "personal mobility device" when you're able to surrender the driving of the device to a network. But the bigger problem with the EN-V and any other "personal mobility devices" is that there already is an efficient form of transportation in cities — it's called a bus or a train. But, of course, the EN-V isn't aimed at us here in the United States, it's designed for Asia, a place where magical things happen and everyone dreams of being able to drive Pac-Man one day. Or so automakers hope — or else they'll have to start getting into the bus business again.

But, we do salute GM for trying something new. God knows they need something to rocket brand perception up to the Hondas of the world.