Thursday, December 3, 2009

Segway, a Toy for the Idle Rich: Just Like the Horseless Carriage

"Dec. 3, 2001: Segway Starts Rolling"
This Day in Tech, Wired (December 3, 2009)

"2001: Inventor Dean Kamen unveils the Segway Personal Transporter, a two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter, on Good Morning America.

"The Segway PT made its debut after months of hype and rampant press speculation during which it was known only by its code name, 'Ginger,' or sometimes just 'It.' Kamen's reputation as a brilliant inventor and businessmen opened doors, and the cleverness of his design convinced backers they were onto something hot...."

But - it's just a scooter. A dumb old scooter. According to Wired.

Here's how the Segway is summed up:

"...But with a price tag that started around $5,000, the Segway PT pretty much doomed itself to a niche market: rich guys who aren't afraid to embarrass themselves in public...."

And people who operate City Segway Tours, in Atlanta, Berlin, Budapest, Chicago, Paris, San Francisco, Vienna, and Washington D.C. - and the sort of early adapters who don't mind using technology that isn't pretty much the way it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

The article is a pretty good overview of Segway's first eight years. And, right after that "embarrass themselves" paragraph, there's a bit that I think is interesting:

"...Despite the small but enthusiastic market, the Segway has caused some controversy due to potential conflicts between it and other forms of urban traffic. Some people just aren't too keen on the idea of a person riding a 60-pound scooter bearing down on pedestrians at its maximum speed of 12.5 mph...."

The assumption that this new transportation technology is a rich man's toy, and a silly one at that; and a certain skittishness by some authorities about this newfangled thing's safety; remind me of the status of the automobile, about a century back. That's when some places insisted that a horseless carriage be preceded by a man holding a red flag.

And then there's this quote:

"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home."
Ken Olsen, President, Digital Equipment, 1977 (The Quotations Page)

Me? At $5,000 each, a Segway isn't in my budget. And I think ownership for personal use will be restricted to people with quite a bit of disposable income - until enough people are interested for economies of scale to drive the price down.

It happened with the automobile, and the computer: I think it could happen with the Segway.


Brigid said...

Heck, I've seen con officials at anime conventions scooting around on those things. If it's fairly easy to get out of the way of one of those things in a crowded hallway (with half the occupants wearing rather bulky costumes) I should think a public sidewalk wouldn't be a problem.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


It isn't. The Segway (12.5 mph top speed and all) was specifically designed to conform to the normal operating limits of Homo sapiens sapiens.

(One resource gives a record top speed for a human being as 27.45 miles per hour: a 100 meter sprint by the fastest known individual among 6,000,000,000. But most of us are a whole lot slower than that. For marathon runners "It's 8.7 miles an hour for people who only run for three hours; 5.2 for those who go six hours." (September 15, 2009)

A top speed of 12.5 mph sounds about right for what we can manage in short bursts. And the "cruising speed" is around the speed of a fast walk. The point is that, in the real world, people on Segways mix with pedestrian traffic (much) better than bicycles. And take up less space than someone on a bike.

As for the world urban bureaucrats live in - - - .

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