Power Walker: How Far Has Segway Come?

SciAm's Steve Ashley re-evaluates Segway's new i2 and x2 Human Transports.

Published: 15-Jan-2007

The debut of the Segway Human Transporter in 2001 surely set the bar for anticipatory hype. Remember "Ginger"? Or was the code name "IT"? But sales of the "revolutionary," self-balancing two-wheeler never approached those of a truly paradigm-changing innovation, such as Apple's iPod. Even five years after the Segway's much ballyhooed introduction, fewer than 24,000 of them cruise the world's sidewalks, pathways, pedestrian malls, and (local laws permitting) bicycle lanes and streets. Still, engineer Dean Kamen's novel electric scooter has managed to attract a lively cult following.

Recently the Bedford, N.H., company rolled out its second-generation Segway Personal Transporter (PT), which comes in an urban/suburban model called the i2 and a beefier, wide-track cross-country version, the x2. The time seemed right to give this intriguing technology another look and perhaps to clarify its place in a wheeled-transportation spectrum dominated by cars, motorcycles, scooters, motorized carts and bicycles. I talked to Segway users, dealers and designers, then briefly drove the i2 and x2 myself.

"Just step up like it's a stepladder," Ed Tsang urges, having just finished sweeping a clear path among the windblown autumn leaves strewn across the parking lot of his Segway dealership in Basking Ridge, N.J. I am mounting what vaguely resembles a modernized version of an old push-type lawn mower, except with a low-slung footpad in place of the rotating scythe blades. Further inspection confirms that the PT is more slickly designed than the original model, but the layout looks similar. I grab the T-shaped handlebar, step onto the platform very gingerly (almost as if it could somehow cut my foot) and finally board the vehicle. As if from a distance, Tsang's well-worn teaching litany just manages to penetrate my consciousness: "Relax ... Don't look down; look forward ... Stand up straight with your knees bent ... Try not to rock back and forth ..."

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