AD: What is revolutionary about the technology behind the Segway?
DK: I think it's the first time that robotic technology has been blended with the human capability to walk. When a person steps on the HT, they use their normal skill set. Everybody who gets on it smiles. It's like watching a person take his first steps. Walking and talking are extraordinarily difficult and uniquely human. The good news is that in a couple of seconds you transfer the skill set you used to learn to walk to the Segway. It's like learning to walk, only quicker. It's almost like putting on a pair of magic sneakers.
AD: What type of technology does the Segway HT employ?
DK: A breakthrough technology, Dynamic Stabilization, enables the Segway HT to work seamlessly with the body's movements. Gyroscopes and tilt sensors in the Segway HT monitor the user's center of gravity about 100 times per second. When a person leans forward slightly, the Segway HT moves forward. If they lean back, the Segway HT moves back. It acts as an extension of the person.
AD: How might this technology be used in other products, services or industries?
DK: It [can] be used in a multitude of commercial settings â€” it's ideally suited for use in large-scale manufacturing plants and warehousing operations, for [enhancing] public safety, corporate and campus transportation, as well as for mail, package and product delivery. It would be very easy to integrate a Segway HT in places where you have a controlled environment.
On a campus, it could be an easy win. You don't have the regulatory hurdle and you don't have to worry about interacting with cars and trucks. People just jump on these things and get across campus in 5 or 10 minutes instead of 15 minutes or half an hour. If you can save people time like that, you've done a lot. I think right up front, the productivity payback is clear.
AD: Do you envision possible variations being developed? Might future Segways carry more than one person?
DK: We are working on lots of variations for carrying things, such as pulling trailers. But I'd rather not speculate on what they'll be. Some are under development. And some of my speculations might turn out to be spectacularly wrong.
AD: Assuming the Segway does become a popular way to get around, how might it change the urban, suburban or rural landscape or streetscape?
DK: People are always surprised by the unintended consequences of technology. Initially people will say these things are going to be competing for space on the sidewalk. If a few are on the sidewalk, they won't compete for space. If a lot of them are being used, it will motivate people to broaden the sidewalk. There will be more political will to make the downtown [area] a green space. You'll start to see a much larger space being divided by people taking less space individually.
AD: What hurdles have to be cleared before the Segway becomes a common mode of transportation?
DK: There are two big ones: We need to grow to service and educate and train the people who will be putting these out there. We need to make sure that from a regulatory point of view we're welcome on sidewalks. This certainly doesn't belong on the streets with the cars and the trucks.
A new spin on the old wheel may help
us cover more ground. A recent two-wheeled invention called the
The first self-balancing, electric- powered transport device, the Segway HT, contains sensors that monitor a user's center of gravity and responds to subtle shifts in weight. With a maximum speed of 12.5 mph â€” about three times the average walking speed â€” and a zero turning radius to make maneuvering smoother, the device will give people an alternative to walking or driving for short trips about town.
The Segway HT will allow people to go farther, move more quickly and carry more than they could walking, says Dean Kamen, chairman and CEO of Manchester, N.H.-based Segway LLC. Because the device enhances mobility, doesn't run on gas and takes up no more space than the average pedestrian, it could conceivably curb car use and relieve urban congestion and pollution.
Says Kamen: â€œOnce you get down to densely populated spaces, asking the car to be the mobility of choice doesn't make sense.â€? He recently spoke with American Demographics' Sandra Yin about how the Segway HT could give us a whole new way to get around.