This week, Dominic Baker, explores the mobile world of the iconic Segway PT. Whether you have been confronted by the Segway on a promenade of the Cote D’Azur, an aisle in IKEA or as part of the Security team at your local airport, you may be surprised to learn who saw its initial potential.
In many ways the Segway PT is and was a game changer. This is what the future looked like, this is was what sci fi comics and films were telling us long ago that in the year 2020 personal transport would be just like this.
It was designed at the University of Plymouth (New Hampshire, US) by successful inventor, Dean Kamen. The Segway, was actually invented when Kamen was trying to create a self balancing wheelchair with gyros and computer wizardry, named the “Ibot”, it also received the nickname, “Fred Upstairs” (after Fred Astaire) – because it could go upstairs (!). The Segway PT was originally named the Ginger (Rogers) and “the IT”.
Launched in New York in 2001, first sales were made in 2002.
The late CEO and Co-Founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, went on record, when the Segway was first announced, saying that the Segway was an as important invention as the PC. He later retracted his statement when he saw the design, as he disliked the finish.
The history of the Segway has been a fairly colourful and marred by tragedy. British entrepreneur, Jimi Heselden, who bought Segway Inc. in 2009, died in September 2010, when he accidentally rode his Segway off the cliffs in Boston Spa (West Yorkshire, UK) – a later inquest concluded he encountered difficulty whilst reversing, after giving a walker room to pass.
Segway was subsequently acquired by Ninebot inc. a Chinese robotics firm.
The Segway PT can do about 24 miles (39km) on a single charge. Due to its top speed (up to 12.5 mph/20kmh ) in some countries Segway are treated as a moped. You won’t need a vehicle registration in Japan but you will need a licence and number plate in Denmark, Switzerland and Finland. Some cities even put up signs warning pedestrians to be mindful of Segways buzzing about – apparently the collective noun for a group of Segways is a swarm!
The Segway has had quite a remarkable up take amongst security and police services. In India, Poland, Sweden and Great Britain the Segway is used for guided tours. In Hong Kong and Singapore they are used at airports and in the Czech Republic private ambulance services use them at festivals.
The Segway doesn’t fit neatly into any legislative box, is it an electric wheelchair/moped/motorised scooter? Its bulky appearance have led it banned from the side-walks in over 30 US States, Canada and it faces similar restrictions in much of Europe.
There are clearly still mixed feelings about the arrival of this revolutionary personal carrier. Could it be some people fear change? Are car makers and petrol companies scared of what might happen if the Segway really took off?
When the youth orientated ‘hover-board’ hit the headlines in 2015 it was considered a fad. In answer to the “hover-board” launch, Segway released the Ninebot Mini Robot Pro at £500, with self drive functions and interaction via mobile phone app, it is more in tune with today’s youth market.