Skip to comments.A Standing Ovation
Posted on 06/01/2003 8:53:52 PM PDT by bruinbirdman
The long-anticipated Segway is finally hitting the streets. After taking a test ride, all we can say is, Man, is this cool or what?
Get used to it: Your kids are going to want one--and the urge might sneak up on you, too. The Segway Human Transporter may or may not change the face of urban transportation, save the environment and bring back Elvis, but it is a pisser to ride. Once the most-hyped secret invention since the A-bomb, code-named It and Ginger, the Segway sprang from the almost impossibly fertile mind of medical technology innovator Dean Kamen (who, it's worth noting, didn't do the hyping himself). What it is, is a 16- by 14-inch aluminum platform with two 14-inch wheels on either side, and a scooter-style handlebar on a stem. What it does is so soothing it's actually spooky, bringing to mind Arthur C. Clarke's dictum that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
There are no brakes on this austere vehicle, no accelerator, no steering wheel. You step aboard and it "oscillates" for a few seconds, getting the feel of you, and then it's fully cruise-able, at 6 mph in "learning mode," and 12.5 mph flat-out. Lean forward, it goes forward, lean back, it stops (or goes in reverse if you lean back far enough). It is next to impossible to fall off. The Segway simply won't let you--unless you crash into the stoop of a brownstone town house, as I did during a brief spin around Manhattan's Greenwich Village.
The only handlebar control is a throttlelike device that turns the Segway left or right; I, uh, turned it left. Meant to go right. I had been marveling at the company's confidence in letting me ride this hoss without signing a legal waiver or donning any protective gear. Hitting that stoop did bring the Segway PR rep hoofing it down the block at a pretty good clip, though.
Man, machine and masonry were all unscathed.
The company's confidence in the machine is built in. Despite the fact that it weighs only a little more than 80 pounds and folds up to fit into an average car trunk, the Segway carts around an impressive amount of redundant technology. Its two high-speed electric motors operate as one but can act independently (and incidentally, by using reverse torque instead of friction for braking, the motors convert the energy of your motion to help replenish the battery). You stay upright despite all clumsiness thanks to its two tilt sensors and five gyroscopes, oriented so that at least two of the gyroscopes sense and correct for any angular motion.
Further proof that the Segway is a vehicle designed by geniuses to be ridden by idiots is that a company called Keolis is installing kiosks in Paris where any inexperienced Pierre off the street can rent a Segway with the swipe of a card and whir over to the next Metro station. (It conks out if not returned after a certain distance, and a locator device will allow Keolis to track it down.) The Segway is also in use or under study by several big-city police departments, the National Park Service and various companies with vast warehouse spaces to navigate. In the golden age of SUVs, it may seem important to know that the Segway is "all-terrain." (The PR rep cagily told us the U.S. military "probably wouldn't confirm" the Segway's use in Iraq, but she assured us, "It works great in sand.")
So what's on the horizon for these techno-scooters, yours for $4,950 exclusively at www.amazon.com? Ideas around our office ranged from Ben-Hur-like chariot races with blade-studded wheels to Segway polo to, more mundanely, Segway lawn mowing. If its future success can be predicted from its present appeal, it should be one smooth ride.
You can rent on while on vacation in Paris.
I asked her "how is it?" She answered "Better than the fantasy." That is my report.
BAE developed the Segway's technology and the machine was launched in America in December. It has already been bought by US Special Forces and fitted with tyres that enable troops to ride through woods and across beaches and deserts.
The US Army is also putting the Segway through trials at its bases, where it is being used to move troops and to patrol perimeter fences.
Dean Kamen, the Segway's inventor, said: "The special forces are thrilled with them. The transporters can carry the soldiers and their equipment which, these days, with surveillance, telecommunications and everything else, can weigh up to 100 lbs per man."
"It means the soldiers can move more quickly and more efficiently, saving valuable time and energy, " he said. - - The Daily Telegraph