In 2001 Dean Kamen said he would unveil a device that would revolutionize our lives.
He released the Segway, the self balancing Human Transporter.
Four years later, the majority of us are still walking to work, riding bicycles, and driving cars. His Human Transporter remains on the fringe of our society’s commuting habits, and did little to no revolutionizing.
Which is unfortunate, because the Segway is a lot of fun to ride.
Yesterday, I had about five minutes with a Segway, on Rockville Pike between the White Flint Metro Stop and the L’Chaim Gallery. I saw the gentleman riding and asked him about his Segway. Turns out he rides the train all the way into the city, and then uses the Segway to get to the train and back.
I asked him about what it’s like to be the early adopter.
“There are stares,” he said, but for the most part he’s enjoying his commute. He notes that he’s only fallen once, and that was when he was showing off. “Want to try it out?” He asked. “I can put it in beginner mode. It will take you about 10 seconds to balance yourself out.”
I nodded. I asked about my backpack, and whether or not it would throw the balance off.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied.
I’ve seen the videos. There are children in my neighborhood that have them. Now, here was the chance to try one out. I know it can balance. I want to believe that it can. I think briefly, “It only has two wheels. How can it balance?”
I closed my eyes and reached for the handle bars. I hoped that the best thing to do was just get on the damn thing. I wobbled for about five seconds, and then I opened my eyes. I was upright, and the Segway was too.
It felt like I was on a stepstool. A wobbly one, maybe one with one leg just half a centimeter shorter than the others. I wasn’t moving forward or backward. After a few seconds the wobbling occurred with less frequency.
“Now lean forward a little bit,” he said.
I leaned forward and then I found I was moving. Not too quickly, since the Segway was set to Beginner Mode. In this mode, it focuses more on auto correction rather than forward movement.
He walked alongside. “The nice thing about beginner mode,” he said, “is that people can’t ride off with your Segway, either.” We laughed. I tried leaning forward more and more, but I never got any faster than a brisk walk. He would have been able to catch me easily.
The sky is partly cloudy, but for the first time in a long time, the temperature felt like Spring.
I steer a bit with the left handle. It’s very responsive. I stop moving and rotate all the way around. I begin to feel a bit disoriented, but as soon as I stop rotating, I feel fine.
There are major cracks and divots in the sidewalk, but the Segway’s large tires take them with no problems.
I rode (he walked) the length of the Nuclear Research Commission building. All too soon we’re at the end. I stepped off the Segway.
“Well,” I say. “thanks for the demonstration.”
He turned around after fiddling with the keys and wheeled off at a speed far faster than I ever reached.
Now I had to walk the rest of the way to White Flint mall. Which was not a horrible thing. After all, it was a nice day.
After having ridden the HT, I feel that it is a fantastic application of technology. However, that innovation comes with a price tag to match. The upcoming model is listed on Amazon, just a penny under five thousand dollars.
I’m just going to be there to check it out.
The revolution is a ways off. Cities need to be built with bikes, Segways and scooters in mind. Legislation could ban Segways outright. Does America really need another way to avoid exercise?
Besides, the revolution needs a more attractive price point.