Segway segues to Kaput
June 24, 2020 6:16 AM   Subscribe

Segway, personal vehicle known for high-profile crashes, ending production. AP via The Guardian.
posted by valkane (106 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I remember when we were all waiting with bated breath for Ginger to be released. It was supposed to revolutionise urban transport, and many were betting it was a hovercar. tout passe tout lasse tout casse et tout se remplace
posted by frumiousb at 6:21 AM on June 24 [25 favorites]


The Grauniad article got it right; it always seemed to be a technically interesting device in search of a market. About the only time I ever really wanted to ride one (I never have) was when I was touristing around DC and realized a bit too late that the National Mall is two miles long.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:24 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


I saw a guy unloading one from the back of his truck in a parking lot at the start of a multi-use trail just the other day. I've never had a chance to ride one. They always seemed like a really neat option for shorter local trips, but the pricing put it completely out of reach for me at the time.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:28 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


About the only time I ever really wanted to ride one (I never have) was when I was touristing around DC and realized a bit too late that the National Mall is two miles long.

Well, in a way it actually did revolutionize urban transport, just not with Segways (and not necessarily for the better), because now the Mall has tons of electric scooters all over the place. Basically the same idea, just without the whole gyro stability thing.
posted by LionIndex at 6:37 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


One thing I will give the Segway: it gave us a moment of collective joy watching George W Bush go ass over teakettle when he tried to ride one.
posted by NoMich at 6:43 AM on June 24 [22 favorites]


I remember when it was unveiled. You could almost hear the entire world say “...really?” at the same time.
posted by sallybrown at 6:45 AM on June 24 [48 favorites]


I once sat on a jury for a personal injury lawsuit involving a Segway accident. So I've never ridden a Segway, but I HAVE watched the same Segway safety video approximately 7532 times.
posted by catoclock at 6:49 AM on June 24 [43 favorites]


I remember when we were all waiting with bated breath for Ginger to be released.

I was in high school on a FIRST robotics team, and I remember how excited we all were. Dean Kamen was the founder of FIRST, and he would show up at the national competition with some of the stuff his company was working on. Shortly before the Segway was announced, he demonstrated the gyro-stabilized powered wheelchair they had developed - it could mount curbs, climb stairs, and raise up on two wheels so the user could be at "standing height" to eliminate a lot of the social imbalances that exist between wheelchair users and standing people. It was really inspiring to see, and in hindsight the Segway was a natural evolution out of that.

I think it just came a little before its time (and too expensive compared to the current options). It was a big letdown when it was released, but I can easily see an alternate timeline where we have racks of Segways waiting for folks to pay their two bucks to ride downtown instead of the proliferation of ebikes and scooters we have now. And I think it really was an important part of the changing attitudes about urban development and transportation.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:50 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


"How could you think that something this large and expensive would be personal mobility?"

Kind of the same way we think about cars as being a form of personal mobility, maybe. Maybe in the future, we'll live in a world of shared vehicles, used for purpose and then released to someone else, but this ain't that right now.
posted by drivingmenuts at 6:51 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Well, in a way it actually did revolutionize urban transport, just not with Segways (and not necessarily for the better), because now the Mall has tons of electric scooters all over the place. Basically the same idea, just without the whole gyro stability thing.

Agree with this, I think it's safe to propose that the first idea of something is rarely the best. Given the various crises that urban car-dependence has lead to, we've seen a decade or so of ideas around micromobility. Segways seem a little bit difficult to deal with in a tight city - probably a little hard to bring up and down stairs, a little too large to easily store, and at home neither on sidewalks nor on roads in an era when American cities, at least, don't really have much other infrastructure for person-scaled transit. Scooters - setting aside the trashfire of scooter-abandonment start-ups - seem to solve a lot of these issues more easily.
posted by entropone at 6:51 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I remember when this happened. It was the kind of tragic foreshadowing you read about in high school essays on Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
posted by chavenet at 6:55 AM on June 24 [11 favorites]


Good riddance. Tourists ride around in little convoys of Segways in my town, blocking sidewalks and threatening pedestrians. I've been hit twice while out running. Those things are huge and heavy and virtually no one who's driving one has any idea what the hell they're doing. My only regret is that I've still never watched somebody accidentally drive one in to the harbor, although twice I've seen it come heartbreakingly close.
posted by saladin at 7:00 AM on June 24 [11 favorites]




Metafilter: twice I've seen it come heartbreakingly close.

Forgive me, I couldn't help myself.
posted by valkane at 7:05 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Kamen deserves a lot of credit for giving people a very visible prompt for rethinking the idea that a 4 seat sedan with a 2 ton ICE motor is the best way for everyone to get around.

But the Segway failed for two reasons: a vehicle is always also a fashion accessory, unfortunately. And the Segway is the kind of fashion accessory that Weird Al rode onto the stage for his White & Nerdy tour. And the advantages it offers do not justify the higher cost compared to other one-person vehicle options.
posted by ocschwar at 7:06 AM on June 24 [12 favorites]


The balancing-on-two-wheels aspect was a novelty, and the need to keep that as part of the design led to a device that was heavy, not particularly nimble, and expensive. An electric scooter also allows you to balance on two wheels without much trouble, while also being light and quite agile. If your only selling point is novelty, what do you do when people don't find it novel any more?

One of the ways we could improve personal mobility is to phase out cars and trucks from cities, while integrating electric vehicles like scooters and smaller electric delivery vehicles. There's a wide space between cars/trucks and bikes/trikes that could be used to make our cities a lot more human-friendly. The Segway, though, just wasn't the right tool for any of that.
posted by pipeski at 7:08 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


he demonstrated the gyro-stabilized powered wheelchair they had developed - it could mount curbs, climb stairs, and raise up on two wheels so the user could be at "standing height" to eliminate a lot of the social imbalances that exist between wheelchair users and standing people.

The iBot power chair was a revelation. It also fell out of production years ago. I remember it being something that most insurance wouldn't cover, so you had to be a well-funded disabled person to afford one (which is hard in the U.S. because states force disabled people to stay poor in order to afford long-term care).

The Segway itself, I remember on reveal thinking it was a thousands-of-dollars device that could replace walking for people who could already stand, and wondering what the market would be for it. I'm amazed it lasted as long as it has.

Thinking about it a little further, this might be a high-profile and outlying case of an accessibility aid in search of mass market appeal: amortizing the cost of the gyroscopic technology over the whole Segway market rather than concentrating it in the iBot wheelchair market.
posted by gauche at 7:10 AM on June 24 [13 favorites]


Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos meet "Ginger"

This is an interesting excerpt from the book written during Segway's development (in obvious preparation for the above "do you remember life before Segway" era).
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:11 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Hadn't given much though to a segway other than seeing those tours that are common in a lot of EU cities. Just looked up the price to see how it compared with an ebike. Its fair to say I was quite surprised. And not pleasantly.
posted by biffa at 7:16 AM on June 24


Man, I remember being sort of drawn into the hype around this in a pre-ubiquitous-social-media way. And then at the reveal, it was very much a "be sure to drink your Ovaltine" feeling.
posted by snwod at 7:16 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


One of the most interesting pre-release theories I saw had to do with Stirling engines - Kamen apparently had some patents around them and oh my the what-ifs were great fun. It was a different time.
posted by jquinby at 7:36 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Thinking about it a little further, this might be a high-profile and outlying case of an accessibility aid in search of mass market appeal: amortizing the cost of the gyroscopic technology over the whole Segway market rather than concentrating it in the iBot wheelchair market.

That was always my read on it -- or maybe my hope? That the Segway was really just a mass market product to help fund a more specialized product that, from what it looked like, could be (could have been) a big deal for accessibility.

To be clear, I have no love for Dean Kamen as hype man -- he actually spoke at my college graduation, and fell asleep on stage. But, I thought maybe he'd manage to do something with the iBot that was more than just a giant expensive scooter.
posted by tocts at 7:37 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I used to live in a little beach town. There was a little diner that overlooked the beach, the kind that's basically burgers and fries and shakes at that's it. The burgers weren't particularly good, but the view was nice, and there was a Segway tour company or something like that in the same little shopping center. So on Saturdays I'd drive down and watch the sea and have a decent burger and watch tourists just own themselves over and over again. Good times.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:39 AM on June 24 [18 favorites]


Dean Kamen gave the keynote at a conference I attended a few years back.

He definitely gave the impression that the more mainstream inventions (like the Segway and the fancy soda machines that have a zillion flavors) were in part to support developing component technology that would also be key to less profitable projects (like the iBot and improving access to drinking water).
posted by superna at 7:41 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I am a member of the "fell off a Segway" club. We rode them as tourists in Munich many years ago. The tour guide said she had never seen anyone fall off one. I guess I took that as a personal challenge.

I live about half a mile from a commuter rail station so I see all kinds of short-distance mobility options. Lots of bikes, electric scooters, boosted boards, and those single-wheel gyroscopic boards. Very few to no full size segways. I do think they were ahead of their time.
posted by muddgirl at 7:44 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


Interesting tech, can see its application for disabled people.

Tourists? Walk ya lazy bastards.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:48 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]




like the Segway and the fancy soda machines that have a zillion flavors

Dean Kamen is responsible for those soda machines? BRING ME HIS HEAD! I hate those things. I just want Coke. Regular Coke. I should not have to press sixteen buttons to get a damn Coke.

There was a guy in my building who had a Segway. He would zoom down the sidewalk up to the building and then walk it into the non-revolving door into the elevator. It always surprised me how big they are. Like others, I think they're amazing technology that didn't seem to have much purpose outside of wheelchair or robot applications. As a form of transportation it always seemed like a bike made a lot more sense.
posted by bondcliff at 7:55 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


The problem with this is the same problem with electric scooters: they would've worked if they took space away from cars; instead, cars are preserved and they're forced to take space away from pedestrians. Micromobility is a real debate that's happening, but for that to work you need shared streets with rigidly enforced 30 km/h speed limits, and the car people aren't having it. Anyway, get a bike!
posted by Tom-B at 7:56 AM on June 24 [13 favorites]


The thing about Segways is that you have to be able to stand, balance, and lean to operate one. If you’re impaired on any of those fronts... you were never the intended audience. The stair climbing wheelchair, THAT was a mobility device.

There used to be a rental shop down close to the lake, and we’d see columns of those Segway-riding tools rolling around. I used to dream about hiding in the bushes and ambushing them with automatic Nerf weaponry, hunt them to extinction (or at least into making better choices with their lives). It’s like tank combat; disable the lead Segway to stop the column, disable the tail position so they can’t retreat (learned that on YT in an analysis of the movie Fury), then... barrage of foam darts and mild insults.

I used to dream about the size of the hunting parties in ghillie suits black hoodies (Oakland-local camouflage) I could pull together. The two things everybody hates: a tourist, and a tool on a Segway.

Good riddance to one of the more mediocre-yet-expensive ideas to come out of the tech boom.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:14 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I remember Woz saying he owned one during his HOPE keynote address years back, quickly adding how nicely it fit in the back of his Humvee.
posted by dr_dank at 8:14 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I remember when it was unveiled. You could almost hear the entire world say “...really?” at the same time.

Dean Kamen, 2001: "They'll redesign cities around it!"

Cities, 2020: We still can't afford to have benches and overhead shelters at bus stops.
posted by Foosnark at 8:15 AM on June 24 [21 favorites]


almost every time I see footage of someone riding a Segway (I've almost never seen one in the wild), my immediate thought is, "why aren't you just walking, asshole?" I guess the asshole part is combination of -- "that device makes you like an idiot -- it's the epitome of uncool" and, as noted above, "you're clogging the sidewalk".

I remember when it was unveiled. You could almost hear the entire world say “...really?” at the same time.

I'd just started working in I.T. at the time, a land where I quickly realized, almost EVERYTHING was hype. From a link previously posted:

In January of 2001, word began to leak that Dean Kamen was working on something amazing that would change the world. If you were paying attention to tech news, you may recall it was everywhere. There was some book deal about it, and we were told that it was going to change the way cities were laid out and would absolutely revolutionize transportation. It had the blessing of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr and was amazing. But no one knew what it was. Hell, it didn't even have a name. It was referred to either as IT or Ginger -- and there were all sorts of rumors about what IT might be. Eventually, of course, IT was revealed as the Segway.

gotta love those Bubble years.
posted by philip-random at 8:18 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I mean, it's faster than walking. Like a lot faster. I imagine that's why they took off only for guided city tours. The outfit we used in Munich also offered bike tours, for reference.

They definitely should be in bike lanes or on the street instead of cars, not on sidewalks.
posted by muddgirl at 8:25 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


The only time I ever rode one was in Copenhagen for an introductory tour of the city when I was new in the math department. It was pretty fun to ride, and pretty useful for that purpose: as others have said, it is faster than walking, so you can see more of the city.

But Copenhagen has good bike infrastructure, which we used. And they are unbelievably expensive and impractical otherwise.

It was pretty fun though.
posted by vernondalhart at 8:32 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


It's the only two-wheeled thing I've ever had any success balancing on, but the price point has always turned me off from actually owning one. I found them fun to ride, though.
posted by emelenjr at 8:34 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


You know I hate this implication that all non-car modes of transport are exchangeable and in competition. Sneering at people on small electric-powered devices to "just walk" isn't helping anything.
posted by muddgirl at 8:53 AM on June 24 [18 favorites]


So, Segways made up about 1.5% of the company's revenues last year. Does anybody know what makes up the remainder? I see someone mention that they make soda machines and the article mentions conventional scooters. I'm wondering how the Segway technology translated into other products.

Thanks!
posted by Phreesh at 8:54 AM on June 24


Early on I remember the hype turning it into this late-night talk-show punchline kind of thing, to the point that one of them - possibly Leno - rounded up a couple one night and asked his two main guests, who happened to be Russel Crowe and Sting, to test-drive them onstage. I only remember Sting trying to do a pirouette on his and Russel almost start some kind of jousting thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:57 AM on June 24


Back when this was in development, my dad was still an engineering exec at GM. He came home one day and told us about this visit/presentation/tour they'd had about the Segway (I don't remember what he called it). He had fun taking a test ride on it, and he thought the engineering was pretty neat.

That is my entire story about the Segway.
posted by Orlop at 8:57 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


high-profile crashes

Which, incidentally, is my new band name. This is our debut album cover.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:57 AM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Count me in as another who hoped the Segway would subsidize the iBot. That wheelchair was amazing. One hypothesis (by friends who worked at Deka) was that the Segway basically came about because they needed something to sell while the iBot took its extremely torturous path towards FDA approved. It was apparently categorized as a "potentially life threatening medical device" because of the risks of an uncontrolled fall, so they were following the same process as pacemaker manufacturers and the attendant 5-10 year timeline.
posted by range at 8:57 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I did not know that Jimi Heselden died in such a horrific way. Holy crap.
posted by cheapskatebay at 8:58 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


a 4 seat sedan with a 2 ton ICE motor

There may be such a vehicle, but I haven't seen one.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:12 AM on June 24


I have used those rental electric scooters a few times. When you want to get 2+ miles across town quickly, it beats everything else. But I already know how to ride a scooter (or a bike.) Segways look heavy and dangerous. I've never been on one because the one thing they can do that electric scooters and bikes can't (climb stairs) is unnecessary for me. Turns out wheelchair ramps are a much cheaper solution to that problem.
posted by nushustu at 9:13 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Wow. The Blue is full of snarky bastards today.

Personally, I thought the Segway was fun the time I took it for a tourist ride in Cincinnati. And yeah, I went ass over teakettle. But I also got my first real inkling that I didn’t need a car to get around the city. It was an eye-opener to a different world.
posted by zooropa at 9:16 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


a 4 seat sedan with a 2 ton ICE motor

There may be such a vehicle, but I haven't seen one.


No but you could say it's a little nuts to take a steel cage containing a desktop computer, an internal combustion engine, a pair of sofas and 300 pounds of vulcanized rubber with you every time you need to go get a gallon of milk.
posted by nushustu at 9:18 AM on June 24 [25 favorites]


My memory of 2002.
posted by tspae at 9:21 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I haven't been on a Segway, but I remember really clearly reading an account from someone (maybe here?) who noted that a Segway worked incredibly well as a mobility aide for them, and that they were kind of tired of the mocking and the general social unacceptability, because it did make their lives easier.

Anyway, I think about that comment a lot. I did not love fleets of tourists on them when I lived in Philly, but of Philadelphia tourists, they were hardly the most irritating. I wish they could have had the impact on city infrastructure Kamen envisioned; as someone who gets around primarily by bike, I'm extremely primed to welcome any non-car people-mover.

(OK, less passively: I recognize that the Segway is not great for everyone, and that fleets of them get annoying and dangerous, but there's an awful lot of ableism in this thread.)
posted by kalimac at 9:22 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


My mind always puts the Segway up against the Kindle in terms of product design and launch. When the first-generation Kindle came out I remember the same reception of "...really? This bulky, clumsy, ugly-as-sin thing is your world-changing idea?" The thing is, though, it was enough to grab some early adopters, and their feedback plus technological advances led to increasingly better Kindles, until it became the nice sleek touchscreen version you can toss in a handbag or large pocket. The Segway never iterated past its initial design: here you go, world, take it or leave it! Wait, what do you mean "we choose leave it"?
posted by Flannery Culp at 9:22 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I just want Coke. Regular Coke. I should not have to press sixteen buttons to get a damn Coke.

OMG, I can FINALLY get caffeine-free diet coke with cherry or lime!!

Isn't it great the way Metafilter has such a diverse readership, and yet we all get along so well?
posted by Melismata at 9:27 AM on June 24 [18 favorites]


They’re more than half as wide as a sidewalk, so they couldn’t have become very popular without crowding themselves out. ( About as wide as a bike lane, I think, so I suppose in cities with bike routes they could have crowded out bikes instead. Second verse, same as the first.)
posted by clew at 9:45 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


there's an awful lot of ableism in this thread.)

I can't ever ride a bike again due to an old injury. But I get it. Lots of people ride bikes and love them, and overall, they're great for our towns, our cities, humanity in general. And they've been around for a long time. The culture has grown to accommodate them in all kinds of ways. Also wheelchairs etc.

If the argument in favor of the Segway (or something similar) is that it assists those few people who, for whatever reason, can stand but they can't sit, and are otherwise incapable of covering comparatively short distances on foot -- then I'm all in favor. But I haven't seen much of that argument anywhere.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Dean Kamen is responsible for those soda machines? BRING ME HIS HEAD! I hate those things. I just want Coke. Regular Coke. I should not have to press sixteen buttons to get a damn Coke.

I had a conversation with someone in that part of the restaurant equipment business and he told me the dirty little secret of those Freestyle machines is that 90% of the customers just go right to Coke or Diet Coke and skip all the frills. I believe newer versions even have a massive COKE button right up front to let you do what you're asking.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:51 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


The Segway never iterated past its initial design...

Maybe part of the problem was that they focused on solving a mobility problem, instead of saying, hey, this is a fun, weird toy? I had thought that iteration on the idea finally came in in the middle of the 2010s with 2015's hoverboard fad, the OneWheel, and other toys. (I don't think any electric scooter has a gyroscope, so I don't think I'd classify them as a descendent of a Segway?)

I guess the next main failure, for people who are looking for actual solutions for mobility, would be the Jyrobike, or finding a way to drop in a gyrowheel onto an existing e-bike.
posted by suckerpunch at 10:05 AM on June 24


I rarely go to the kinds of restaurants that have those kinds of soda machines, but I'm always really happy when I see one. Like, if a place is going to have five or six kinds of soda, there's no way that lime-flavored sparkling water (my preferred Freestyle selection) is going to make the cut. And yet, you go to a place with a fancy soda machine, and there it is, right next to, I don't know, Caffeine-Free Raspberry Mr. Pibb. Freestyle!
posted by box at 10:06 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


I prefer those Coke machines to any other - who doesn't like a hit of cherry in their Sprite Zero? Look, I get it - soft drinks are unhealthy. All things in moderation. Now leave me to enjoy my 64 oz. of fizzy water.
posted by drivingmenuts at 10:19 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


I always get peach lemonade.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:24 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


My hope is that Adam Sandler buys the entire remaining production line, so Paul Blart: Mall Cop 3 can end with a Blues-Brothers-esque Segway chase that wrecks dozens of them.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:25 AM on June 24 [8 favorites]


I just want Coke. Regular Coke. I should not have to press sixteen buttons to get a damn Coke.

freedom of choice is what you got
posted by flabdablet at 10:30 AM on June 24


If the argument in favor of the Segway (or something similar) is that it assists those few people who, for whatever reason, can stand but they can't sit, and are otherwise incapable of covering comparatively short distances on foot -- then I'm all in favor. But I haven't seen much of that argument anywhere.

Yeah, I absolutely see what you're saying, and I don't get the sense a Segway is super broadly applicable as an assistive device (although there's a lot to be said for making the same thing a Fun Toy and an aide and the normalization inherent in that). And I don't think the thread is drowning in lol use ur legs losers hot takes, just....yeah, I wish it had been different, and we collectively could kind of just shrug and let people use what works for them, and create the public space to handle a variety of ways to go from Point A to Point B, no matter how short or long it is. And a Segway being just another part of that :)
posted by kalimac at 10:30 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


What I'm hearing is, we need a Segway with a fancy soda machine attachment.
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:34 AM on June 24 [11 favorites]


"No but you could say it's a little nuts to take a steel cage containing a desktop computer, an internal combustion engine, a pair of sofas and 300 pounds of vulcanized rubber with you every time you need to go get a gallon of milk."

Cage goes fast, plays music, has a/c and I usually get more than one thing because cage has great storage too.

I mean yes, cars have done great evil but the reasons people drive are not mysterious.
posted by emjaybee at 10:38 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Only time I rode one was years ago on a (free) tour of Honolulu. It was a combination of "this technology is kinda spooky," "man, I feel like such a dork," and "wow, this is kind of fun."
posted by gottabefunky at 10:54 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Orlop's dad thought the engineering was pretty neat
I remember reading about how they designed the gears in the gear train with relatively prime numbers of teeth to make sure they wear evenly. I think that's fairly common, but they claimed to have also chosen the relative numbers of teeth to make sure the gear train played a pleasant-sounding chord.
posted by moonmilk at 11:22 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


they claimed to have also chosen the relative numbers of teeth to make sure the gear train played a pleasant-sounding chord.

That honestly wouldn't surprise me. Kamen's had a thing for clocks for a while.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:29 AM on June 24


All the pre-release hype actually lowered my expectations. I was ready for Gabbo or New Coke. I was pleasantly surprised that it was something useful (albeit niche).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:34 AM on June 24


Me’n Pythagoras are wondering how you make a pleasant chord with mutually prime numbers.
posted by clew at 11:35 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


Pythagoras wouldn't approve of our new-fangled equal temperament either, the old crank!
posted by moonmilk at 11:43 AM on June 24


Anyway, I found this:
Transmission: The two-stage transmission, built by Segway and Axicon Technologies, has a compact 24:1 gear ratio. It uses a helical gear assembly that significantly reduces noise. The Segway team configured the two meshes in the gear box (the points where gears connect) to make sound exactly two octaves apart. This means the sounds are in harmony, so the gear box make a more musical noise. The gears are also designed to have noninteger gear ratios, meaning the gear teeth mesh at different points from revolution to revolution. This minimizes wear and tear to extend the life of the gear box.
- howstuffworks
posted by moonmilk at 11:44 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


I just want Coke. Regular Coke. I should not have to press sixteen buttons to get a damn Coke.

Ooh, ooh, now do the one about pressing one for English! I love that one!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:22 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


Maybe the disconnect is between people who learned to ride a bike as a kid, and people like me. Learning to ride a bike as an adult took several weekends of practice before I got to the "confident enough to fall off" stage. Electric bikes don't solve the balance problem.

Conversely it took me 10 minutes to learn to ride a Segway and maybe 30 minutes to get confident enough to fall off.

Maybe if Segway had come in 2015 with a rental app and a labor-market-disrupting model where ICs moved them around the city and services them in their backyards, like Limebike and Bird and all the modern electric two-wheeler devices we have for rent today.
posted by muddgirl at 12:51 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Tourists? Walk ya lazy bastards.

I'll skip a lengthy rant about how ablest that is and instead point out that the alternative to a segway tour is usually a diesel bus not pedestrians.
posted by Mitheral at 1:02 PM on June 24 [9 favorites]


I think 99% of Segway tours focus on the novelty of the Segway rather than whatever's being toured.

They're also astonishingly impractical/disruptive vehicles when they're used by "herds" of people wearing headphones who aren't familiar with the streets/sidewalks they're using.

If you have a mobility issue, a pedicab seems like a far better solution.
</end rant from person who has a bicycle commute that intersects the White House and National Mall>
posted by schmod at 1:34 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


According to the Washington Post, 21 people were laid off as a result of the discontinuation, so I guess they weren’t making too many of them.
posted by snofoam at 2:10 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


No doubt part of the appeal of Segway tours is the Segway. But those tourists would still be doing something on their trip and many of options would use a bus for transportation or even worse individual automobiles. Does DC have horse drawn carriage tours? Those are the real annoyances here.

Mobility issues come in all shapes and sizes.
posted by Mitheral at 2:27 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


it assists those few people who, for whatever reason, can stand but they can't sit, and are otherwise incapable of covering comparatively short distances on foot

I mean, this seems to be the exact problem that Segway scooter tours solve. They even the mobility playing field between teens and grandparents and other people with mobility and/or endurance issues. It erases barriers without calling attention to the folks who maybe can't walk two miles of hills at the same pace as the tour guide.

I once wandered into a sparsely attended robotic exhibit, and the last room was just an obstacle course for the Segway. Ramps and quick turns. I was able to dick around on it for about twenty minutes.

I've never had the balance needed to ride a two wheel bike. I don't feel comfortable on a scooter. But within five minutes, I felt completely at ease on the Segway. The turns and speed control were remarkably intuitive.

They don't work in our iteration of the urban environment. But that's also because wheelchairs and other assistive devices don't work on a large scale in the same environment. Why shouldn't an area be able to accommodate a group of 15-30 people on motorized wheelchairs? Should we really be content to quickly assume that's too many mobility challenged people for our society?
posted by politikitty at 2:45 PM on June 24 [7 favorites]


The relative simplicity of the powered scooters might be why they took over for tourists, back when I worked downtown. They were also cheaper per unit, though I don't think any of them made any of their money back.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:47 PM on June 24


Well, even though the scooter operators are famously unprofitable, purchasing a scooter outright remains far cheaper than a Segway. They're darn near cheaper than (unpowered) bicycles these days.

If DEKA had managed to cut the cost of a Segway by 90%, they might have actually revolutionized the world, because scooters actually kind of suck from a practicality standpoint -- the wheel arrangement combined with a low center of gravity makes them hazardous at any speed.
posted by schmod at 3:16 PM on June 24


our city's "scenic segway tour" has several intersections with the bike infrastructure I use to commute to and from work so I see them a lot, and I would say that on average, most of the groups tend to be people who are maybe a little too old to do a lengthy walking tour.

I like the segway for tours. I think "able to stand without problem but not walk a huge amount" is actually a pretty big demographic. Also you can cover a bit bigger distance with them then you could with a walking tour. They're also very quiet, and they go a reasonable speed, so that I don't find sharing bike paths with them hard. Some scooters and ebikes go VERY fast and are alarming on the paths.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:18 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


RIP, Gidget
posted by buzzv at 3:42 PM on June 24


Storage is a problem if you're using a bike/scooter/car for commuting, and one thing the Segway might have have excelled at in a commuter context was putting itself away. I could imagine Segways rolling themselves into charging cubicles (maybe even folding into themselves to fit) ready for their users to ride them home in the afternoon.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:47 PM on June 24


I don't like the freestyle soda machines because whatever you choose always ends up tasting just a little bit like whatever the last person chose.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:56 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I've only had a couple of opportunities to use the fancy Coke machines, but I don't remember it taking more than one or two button presses to get a plain Coca-Cola? (Maybe three including the one to wake up the screen from its slideshow idle state)

As far as Segways go, one must remember that the size is largely a function of the time in which they were designed. Fancy MEMS accelerometers were barely a thing and lithium-ion batteries were both far more expensive and far less energy dense than they are today. The chemistries used at the time weren't designed for high draw applications like motors, which is why they weren't really any better than a NiMH battery for that application.

A redesign could have cut down the size dramatically and still given improved range. I can't say it would be much better than an electric scooter, though. The larger wheels would be more comfortable, but otherwise it would be mainly a change in stance more than anything else.

TBH, I'm getting tired of people complaining about alternatives to cars. More so than I am about asshats going way too fast on battery-powered devices on shared sidewalks since I rarely have occasion to be in the particularly congested areas of town these days.

People tooling around in their 2000 pound cocoons have a much greater impact on my daily life and present a much greater risk of killing or maiming me than at most 300 pounds of person and machine traveling at half the speed or less. It's not even close, the difference in energy is over two orders of magnitude.
posted by wierdo at 5:45 PM on June 24 [5 favorites]


I rode a Segway once, for a tour of DC. It was with a friend who has been trying creative ways to kill me for several decades now. We were given instructions on how to ride the things, and then let loose in DC traffic. What if I hadn't quite gotten the hang of it? But I did OK for about 2 hours. The flaw of the device, to me, was not having a damn "freeze" button so you could shift your feet without taking off in unforeseen directions. My feet were tired after two hours of standing and I don't think that's unreasonable. We got back to the parking lot and while waiting to get off, I shifted my feet and fell off the thing, getting a minor knee injury that took years to heal. I would have much rather taken a tour bus.

She's still my best friend though. Yesterday she asked me if I wanted to go on a cave tour this weekend. I briefly wondered if there were conditions more conducive to coronavirus aerosols than a cave tour, and told her maybe later.
posted by acrasis at 6:36 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I remember Woz saying he owned one during his HOPE keynote address years back, quickly adding how nicely it fit in the back of his Humvee.--dr_dank

Oh that's right. He and his friends would go to parks and play Segway Polo. I'm not kidding--I once saw them play a game when I was at a kids birthday party.
posted by eye of newt at 8:00 PM on June 24


shit now I kind of want to find a chance to ride one before they disappear entirely
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:32 AM on June 25 [3 favorites]


I should point out something that the Guardian article doesn't - that it is not, and has never been, legal to ride a Segway on public roads in the UK.

The Department of Transport classifies it as a 'powered vehicle', meaning it has to meet certain (pretty stringent) standards to be allowed to be driven on the road. It doesn't meet those standards. Similarly, it falls under the Highways Act 1835 (!) definition of a 'carriage', which means it can't be ridden on the pavement either.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:21 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


I think 99% of Segway tours focus on the novelty of the Segway rather than whatever's being toured.

This is true. But Segway's are remarkable in that it is possible for almost anybody to get on one for the first time - to be able to have basic control of the vehicle within minutes - and the be a competent operator capable of tackling hills and precision manoeuvres within just a few more minutes. The real attraction to new riders is that you are acquiring what seem like ninja skills - but which are actually extremely easy. These are the characteristics that let Segway tour businesses operate on a model were complete novice users of widely differing ages, heights, weights (and degrees of sobriety) - can just turn up and go - and the company can rest (reasonably) soundly in the knowledge their clients will not damage the machines, themselves or bystanders. Compare with the amount of time it takes to learn to drive a motorbike, car, skateboard, set of roller blades, etc.
posted by rongorongo at 5:42 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Seems a shame that such a weird thing couldn't survive. What remains of the Segway brand is now selling rebranded Sur Ron electric dirtbikes at twice the price.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:45 AM on June 25 [1 favorite]


The balance thing that makes scooters and ebikes a problem for people with balance or mobility issues can be solved much more cheaply by adding a third wheel. You end up with something lighter that doesn't need a gyroscope. And once you have an electric trike, adding luggage capacity via a trailer is no big deal. I've seen a guy pulling a boat with a trike, although I'm pretty sure it was just pedal-powered.
posted by pipeski at 6:50 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


A standing trike with a stability triangle large enough to be anywhere near as stable as a Segway is pretty big. Look at how big a longboard is. I'm guessing a wheelbase of at least a metre to handle someone two metres tall. You'd also want it to be slingshot style for forward dynamic stability which increases the complexity. The problem is large enough that here all the mobility scooters have went to four wheels and of course you haven't been able to by a three wheel ATV in decades.

So you end up with a larger, likely as heavy if not significantly heavier, package all with a relative to segway very poor turning radius.
posted by Mitheral at 7:12 AM on June 25 [4 favorites]


There's a rail-to-trail near our house and a few times over the years I've been out on my bike and passed a guy riding his Segway in jean shorts with a brightly colored parrot sitting on his shoulder. Always jean shorts and always with his parrot friend. That guy makes me happy.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:37 AM on June 25 [9 favorites]


(animated GIF of Gob Bluth saying, "COME ON!")
posted by Legomancer at 7:55 AM on June 25 [2 favorites]


Thinking about this a little further, the Segway is a perfect example of the way that structures overwhelm individual action. The Segway did not revolutionize urban design because no amount of Segway adopters can overcome the car-centric logic that is built into American urban spaces. The problems with this sort of urban design are not engineering problems but political problems.

If Kamen had poured millions of dollars into lobbying for changes to planning and zoning code in a strategically chosen city, the Segway could have revolutionized urban design in that city. He made, instead, a product that individuals can buy but not use as intended (as an urban mobility solution to many, perhaps even most, but not all use cases where the alternative is a single-occupant car or truck), because the context for that intended use is outside of an individual's control.
posted by gauche at 11:05 AM on June 25 [6 favorites]


Gauche your comment is a perfect assessment. It's hard to revolutionize the ways cities are built when you do nothing but introduce something and expect the world to miraculously revolve around it. Of all the similar personal mobility devices, I'd argue that the Segway had the least effect in that regard - even e-scooters are having more of an impact.

Also, count me among the people hit by a tourist on a Segway, though for me mercifully I was stopped with my foot down on my bike at the time and the guy just barely tapped me (though he also didn't acknowledge it, which was supremely weird).
posted by urbanlenny at 12:09 PM on June 25 [4 favorites]


I feel like the advent of onewheel and other e-scooter / e-unicycle devices has proven there's a market for micromobility devices even if it's sharply constrained by availability of infrastructure.

a 4 seat sedan with a 2 ton ICE motor

There may be such a vehicle, but I haven't seen one.


*Pours out an entire tanker truck full of gasoline in memory of the Fiat S76 with its ridiculous 28L 4 cylinder engine.*
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:20 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Thanks for that BC, but
A. That's not a sedan, and doesn't have 4 seats.
B. The entire thing weighed less than 2 tons.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:30 PM on June 25 [1 favorite]


Yeah but you need two of them for 4 seats ;)

Seriously, even the Bugatti Veyron engine is a "svelte" 490 kg.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:43 PM on June 25



I should point out something that the Guardian article doesn't - that it is not, and has never been, legal to ride a Segway on public roads in the UK.

The Department of Transport classifies it as a 'powered vehicle', meaning it has to meet certain (pretty stringent) standards to be allowed to be driven on the road.


In the homeland of the Reliant Robin? Really?
The mind boggles.
posted by ocschwar at 8:57 PM on June 26 [2 favorites]


Main issue segway had was not having financing/leasing options when it first came out. $5k outright was too much for most, but $200 a month to eliminate the need for a commuter car would have made sense for a lot of people.
posted by Sophont at 2:20 AM on June 27


I don't like the freestyle soda machines because whatever you choose always ends up tasting just a little bit like whatever the last person chose.

White chocolate shrimp
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:01 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]


White chocolate shrimp

I'm going to look up whatever comedy that came fro... wait, that's a thing. *shudders in Richter scale*
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:12 PM on June 28


I don't like the freestyle soda machines because whatever you choose always ends up tasting just a little bit like whatever the last person chose.

Agreed. Which is why I let it run for a couple seconds to get the old stuff out before filling up my drink.
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:52 AM on June 29


One of the most interesting pre-release theories I saw had to do with Stirling engines

And the Combined Heat and Power units are still not at $2,500 or $5000.

Nor has anyone been shipping mass produced stirling engines. Tim Sefton is trying after his kickstarter but they just seem to not be a workable thing.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:22 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


And the Combined Heat and Power units are still not at $2,500 or $5000.


Indeed. And now that many people have solar systems with large batteries you'd think that a heat/power unit would be extremely attractive: you could generate power at night, and use the waste heat to produce hot water for the morning rush. And yet it's not a thing, even for homes that already use gas to heat their water.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:20 PM on July 1


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