This Day In Tech
Events That Shaped the Wired World
Dec. 3, 2001: Segway Starts Rolling
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.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and legendary venture capitalist John Doerr were early and enthusiastic investors, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs even predicted that cities would be redesigned around the device and that it would be even more significant than the personal computer.
And then the cover came off, and the Segway was revealed to be … a scooter.
Yes, it was an amazingly high-tech scooter, with just two wheels and complicated electronics and a gyroscope enabling it to self-balance. Riding a Segway was giddily fun: You just thought about moving forward, or back, or stopping, and the machine did what you wanted, thanks to its ability to sense and respond to very slight shifts in your balance.
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.
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, and some cities (as well as Disneyland) have restricted their use. That said, 44 states and the District of Columbia allow Segways to operate in the same spaces as pedestrians and bicycles.
Segway says it has sold “tens of thousands” of the devices since they first went on sale in 2002. Segway fans use them to play “Segway polo” (Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is a player).
Monster CEO Noel Lee favors one, the better to tower over you at trade shows and conferences.
One pair of guys even rode a Segway across the United States. And as of Oct. 2008 more than a thousand police and security agencies were using Segway PTs as part of their patrol operations, according to the company. Police on Segways have chased down car thieves and even nabbed gun-wielding Chicagoans.
So as ridiculous as the scooters might look, they do have their uses. And they are fun to ride.
They just haven’t changed the face of the city quite yet.