“This Is Going to Change the World”
August 2, 2021 10:18 AM   Subscribe

 
Previously
posted by ShooBoo at 10:23 AM on August 2


From the article: But the next time you go to the movies, you might see a different DEKA innovation: the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, that miracle device that mixes flavors into your Diet Coke as precisely as Kamen’s first invention, the drug infusion pump, delivered medication at carefully calibrated levels.
posted by ShooBoo at 10:30 AM on August 2 [5 favorites]


Jobs alone wanted to invest $60 million and couldn’t believe it when Kamen turned him down

You would think that between the two of them a brilliant engineering mind famous for a “bone-deep understanding of first principles” who was “always looking for a more elegant solution and the most famous reteller of the “bicycle for your mind” parable would remember that there was such a thing as an actual bicycle.

This thing had no shot, I think this guy can put his conscience to rest.
posted by mhoye at 10:31 AM on August 2 [13 favorites]


This thing had no shot, I think this guy can put his conscience to rest.

The funny thing is, if you look at the herd of electric scooters blanketing our downtowns pre-pandemic, he was almost right about the need for electric last mile transport. He was just too early, got the ownership model wrong, and overcomplicated it.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:37 AM on August 2 [95 favorites]


What really breaks my heart is the comment about 'Fred' - the balancing wheelchair - at the end of the article. I saw Kamen demonstrate Fred on (I think) 60 Minutes a couple years before the release of the Segway. They interviewed a handicapped person who was testing one and she commented on how revolutionary it was to be able to reach an object on a shelf all by herself - completely liberating. I was sure I'd see one on the streets in 2-3 years.

And yet, here we are, some 25 years later, and the promise of Fred hasn't been realized - completely torpedoed by Kamen's inability to focus. Something that could have changed millions of lives. All that's really left are those dorky gliding skateboard things.

What a waste.
posted by scolbath at 10:44 AM on August 2 [75 favorites]


Yeah this guy can really let himself off the hook, the product itself sucked because engineers don't give 2 shits about usability or the actual humans using these products and it shows when the products don't work for the person using it despite all their brilliant engineering. You have to actually care about the people using the thing for the thing to be any good. I'm not surprised this was the same guy who invented the portable dialysis machine because the usability on those things is for shit too.
posted by bleep at 10:54 AM on August 2 [5 favorites]


This thing had no shot, I think this guy can put his conscience to rest.

I disagree. It was obviously doomed to fail as it was billed, as a replacement for walking, as a new mode of transportation that was going to elbow its way in between bikes and pedestrians, and replace them both. It was so obviously unnecessary.

But it could have been launched as a recreational device. People pay as much for skidoos and seadoos and jetskis. Faster variations, competitive devices, and soon you'd have what genuinely looks cool to be riding on, the electric unicycle. It could have had a solid chance to get established and work its way into everyday usage. Cheaper versions, more accessible rentals. I still see people on the e-unicycle zipping around, and want one.

But Silicon Valley soils all it touches. There's far more blame to be put on Dooer and Jobs and Bezos for enabling Kamen to take a product with potential and turn it into a moonshot. And Kamen himself, according to the article, was the primary driver of the absurdly misaligned expectations.
posted by fatbird at 10:58 AM on August 2 [12 favorites]


It could have had a solid chance to get established and work its way into everyday usage. Cheaper versions, more accessible rentals.

That's exactly what happened, and if these guys had just gotten over themselves they could have seen that. From the article:

In fact, Segway’s children are everywhere: scooters, electric-boosted skateboards, all the new backbones of the short urban commute. . . . The DEKA guys scoff at these cheaper, flimsier transportation devices. "These hoverboards and stuff, I mean, I wouldn’t get on one," said Mike Ambrogi, Benge’s brother, who also worked at DEKA for years. "One hundred things could go wrong that could put your face right in the pavement. . . But of course, astronomically more people own and ride cheap scooters and junky hoverboards than ever owned or used a Segway.

Seriously, Mike, who cares if you would get on one? Millions of people get on them every day and happily pay for the privilege.

The Chinese company that now owns the Segway IP actually makes enormous numbers of those devices -- some branded with that Segway name. But as is so often the case in American techbro culture, everyone was so enamored of being the guy (and it's always a guy) who changed the world that they failed to take into account the ways in which the world actually wanted to change. Not a problem, notably, for the Chinese company that acquired the wreckage.
posted by The Bellman at 11:09 AM on August 2 [44 favorites]


A couple of things I found really interesting in the article:

“Yeah,” he said, “a bunch of really smart people got together, but you needed one dumb person in the room to keep things on the level.”

That quote is kind of amazing.

And the story about the British investor:

The death of the one guy who still loved Segways enough to invest in Segway, killed by his Segway, basically seemed to put a cap on the dark comedy of Ginger.

How is this not yet a movie? Or maybe this article is Dan Kois's bid for making it into a movie?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:10 AM on August 2 [12 favorites]


If Dean Kamen had followed in his father's footsteps as a comics illustrator, he could have contributed a lot more good to the world.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:15 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


leotrotsky: "The funny thing is, if you look at the herd of electric scooters blanketing our downtowns pre-pandemic, he was almost right about the need for electric last mile transport. He was just too early, got the ownership model wrong, and overcomplicated it."

I'll admit that I have a bias against those scooters, but the scooter-rental companies do not have a viable business model. Much like Uber & Lyft, they're being kept afloat by investors in a Ponzi scheme that will inevitably leave a lot of people holding the bag. If the cost of scooter rental were high enough to cover costs (never mind make a profit), no one would use them.
posted by adamrice at 11:16 AM on August 2 [28 favorites]


Really interesting article.

The dork factor is something I haven't heard people talk much about before, but seems really important. I've ridden a friend's "hoverboard." It's really fun. More fun than a jet ski. More fun than a zip line. (It's also $200.) But, there's no way I'd ever ride one in my neighborhood on a daily basis. It would probably take a while before somebody took me up on the offer of a really easy mugging, but I can't imagine looking people in the eye at a bus stop while riding one. Maybe I'm particularly insecure, but I don't think I could cope with the side-eye I'd get from everyone else.

But, also, walking works really well. Paying to go slightly faster than walking without any of the health benefits seems like an obvious non-starter. And claiming it would revolutionize travel in developing countries, where you can buy a $100 motorcycle and repair it yourself, was as smart as a brick. The idea of getting a Segway or knock off and modifying it to remove the speed restrictions, though, does sound like fun.
posted by eotvos at 11:20 AM on August 2 [15 favorites]


I disagree. It was obviously doomed to fail as it was billed, as a replacement for walking, as a new mode of transportation that was going to elbow its way in between bikes and pedestrians, and replace them both. It was so obviously unnecessary.

Not so, it's just that the US has really weak alternative mobility (anything other than cars) networks in most of its cities. It really doesn't matter how good the mobility device is if a large number of people don't feel safe enough to ride them. He should have taken Job's money (and every other investor) to get some people on the pedestrian transportation committees in a few cities so some real bike lanes could exist and his product has a safe space to be used.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:20 AM on August 2 [18 favorites]


I think that I've mentioned this on the blue before, but the one and only time that I would have liked to have had access to a Segway was when I was walking along the National Mall in Washington, DC--and realizing, to my increasing exhaustion, that it was two miles long--and saw some other tourists zipping along in a Segway conga line. That's it. If I'm not trying to stuff as many landmarks and sites in a single day as I was then, I'd much rather get the exercise of walking or cycling.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:24 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


It'd be really interesting to see how electric scooters and Segways worked in a culture that was more civic-minded. It's clear how incredibly useful they are for a lot of people - they're popular! they get used! - and they also fuck up pedestrian right-of-way.

In Portland, Oregon, the scooters were repeatedly left all over sidewalks, especially downtown, creating an annoyance for most folks but a real impediment to many wheelchair users. As lockdown has (unfortunately) been lifted, I've started seeing them again, and the same problems have picked right back up. This doesn't even get into people zipping along on the sidewalks at 15 mph.

But that's an issue with the Segways, too. There's at least one company that runs Segway tours in the downtown area. It was reliably booked pretty much every day pre-pandemic for many years. Groups of 10-15 people who had never been on a Segway just kinda haphazardly bumbling along crowds on the sidewalks.

Pedestrians are the least-respected and most-vulnerable group of travelers, and adding more motorized, under-regulated bullshit into the one place that's supposed to be safer is just infuriating.
posted by curious nu at 11:27 AM on August 2 [39 favorites]


the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, that miracle device that mixes flavors into your Diet Coke as precisely as Kamen’s first invention, the drug infusion pump, delivered medication at carefully calibrated levels.

From first-hand accounts, the Freestyle was a high-maintenance machine that promised increased store traffic but instead spent most of it's time (upwards of 90%) serving straight Coke and Diet Coke to customers and the 'miracle' never happened.

What I found amusing that years later Pepsi introduced the Spire, which looks like a Freestyle but is just a plain 'ol soda fountain with flavor buttons just like the one in your gas station c-store, but crammed behind a large touchscreen.

Others above have already made tidy parallels to this so I'll stop here.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:29 AM on August 2 [2 favorites]


The Segway came too early in relation to an underlying technology shift in batteries driven by two decades of growth in smartphone use and expectations. “Over the last decade a surge in lithium-ion battery production has led to an 85% decline in prices, making electric vehicles and energy storage commercially viable for the first time in history.” All those hoverboards, disposable scooters, and other electric vehicles are possible because batteries are cheap now.
posted by migurski at 11:30 AM on August 2 [21 favorites]


Here in San Francisco, a city overrun with personal electric stand on transportation (PEST), you still see these with tourists centipeding around in a line following a guide, or in small chaotic groups, not following any of the laws they should. Back in the it will change the world times, the Post Office here experimented with having mail carriers deliver mail on them them in hilly neighborhoods. Bomb. Then the city passed a law banning them from sidewalks. But, see above. Segways were clearly an answer without a question.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:34 AM on August 2 [9 favorites]


Suggested edit: Paying $5000 to go slightly faster than walking without any of the health benefits seems like an obvious non-starter.

Thus the popularity of scooters. I definitely would have bought a Segway for $300.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:38 AM on August 2 [8 favorites]


If Dean Kamen had followed in his father's footsteps as a comics illustrator, he could have contributed a lot more good to the world.
posted by Faint of Butt


I mean, I think the drug infusion pump stuff and the dialysis stuff Dean Kamen invented are contributing plenty of good to the world.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:45 AM on August 2 [23 favorites]


In a lot of places in the US, bicycles, roller skates, inline skates, and skateboards are all prohibited from using sidewalks.

It is generally for the safety of pedestrians, since they sometimes cannot move out of the way of a bicycle or skaterboarder in time, and the pedestrian will likely be hurt more than the person riding on wheels.

I always assumed the Segway died because of these regulations, it was too god damned big and bulky, and since you couldn't really legally ride it on a sidewalk in a lot of areas, and in a lot of areas the sidewalk was barely wider than the original Segway, it just always seemed like it's hard enough to get bike lanes, and these guys didn't even consider that half the country would be places they couldn't go? On top of that, $5000 for the pleasure, which, accounting for inflation, was a hell of a lot more money back then to be pissing away on something you couldn't even reasonably use around town.

Those RadPower electric assist bicycles are super popular in my city and I want one. They go fast enough to be road-legal if you want them to be, but slow enough so that you can still legally use them in bicycle parks and paths. $1000 for a basic model is a lot more reasonable, and the fact that you can go fast enough to drive in a vehicle lane and keep up with traffic makes it a lot more accessible, especially for people who live in rural areas without sidewalks or bike lanes.

It definitely seemed like the work of someone who assumed their particular use-case was the best solution for everybody.
posted by deadaluspark at 11:47 AM on August 2 [3 favorites]


And yet, here we are, some 25 years later, and the promise of Fred hasn't been realized - completely torpedoed by Kamen's inability to focus. Something that could have changed millions of lives.

That's not what happened. From the article:

In 1995, Kamen sold Fred, the wheelchair, to Johnson & Johnson, and turned his attention to Ginger.

Johnson & Johnson spent north of $50 million more on R&D, put the iBOT through clinical trials starting in 1999, and it got FDA approval in 2003 as a Class III medical device. J&J discontinued production in 2009 because it just couldn't turn a profit; they sold too few of them and they were too expensive to make.

After the FDA lowered the iBot to a class II medical device (making it easier to insure) in 2014, Kamen teamed up with Toyota to try and revive the iBot in 2016. Which they ultimately did (the current generation of them is sold by an outfit called Mobius Mobility) but they were never able to get the costs down:

Unfortunately for would-be-users, the new iBOT still carries an initial MSRP of $30,000, a price Kamen had hoped would be considerably less. “We are keeping our costs extremely low,” says Merrow, “but this is the price we need to charge at this point in order for the company to be sustainable. Our goal is to bring the costs down, but how long this will take is an unknown.” He adds, “Dean wants this machine to be as affordable as possible. He remains personally involved and deeply committed to advancing the iBOT technology and making it available to those who can benefit from it.”

The reason you don't see them isn't because Dean Kamen just stopped caring - it's because capitalism demands that even the most amazing, life-changing invention needs to be profitable, but our healthcare system sucks, and not a lot of wheelchair users have $30 grand to spend on a wheelchair, no matter how amazing. Beat up on him for Segway-related dumbassery all you want, but the fact that iBots aren't ubiquitous is not on him.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:56 AM on August 2 [84 favorites]


What I found amusing that years later Pepsi introduced the Spire, which looks like a Freestyle but is just a plain 'ol soda fountain with flavor buttons just like the one in your gas station c-store, but crammed behind a large touchscreen.

Freestyle machines still exist and probably are difficult to maintain, relative to a standard restaurant soda machine, but my point is I've never seen one of those Pepsi machines before. There are freestyle competitors, some with manual buttons for adding flavorings, but they are pretty rare.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:59 AM on August 2 [4 favorites]


"I mean, I think the drug infusion pump stuff and the dialysis stuff Dean Kamen invented are contributing plenty of good to the world."

Indeed. And the "Fred" wheelchair mentioned above (released as the iBot) doesn't seem to have been "completely torpedoed by Kamen's inability to focus." According to wikipedia, the iBot was developed with a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, revealed in 1999, got FDA approval in 2003, and was sold until 2009, when it was discontinued because only a few hundred were being sold each year. Toyota and DEKA formed a partnership to develop a new version, and that was released in 2019. That sure doesn't sound like Kamen/DEKA have been ignoring this product.
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:00 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Looking forward to this article but on the blockchain in 20 years.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:01 PM on August 2 [13 favorites]


"...capitalism demands that even the most amazing, life-changing invention needs to be profitable, but our healthcare system sucks, and not a lot of wheelchair users have $30 grand to spend on a wheelchair..."

1) Not a lot of people have billions of dollars to pay for aircraft carriers, but our corporations build them because the government buys them. Similarly, our government pays a shitload of money for power wheelchairs. I think that's good in general, but it also results in overpayment because the people getting the wheelchairs aren't paying directly, and incentives matter. (Yes, the program should be better run, but that's easy to say and hard to do.)

2) There are a lot of other countries that are not as capitalistic. Do they have better power wheelchairs? (That came across as snarky, and it was, but not completely. I'm skeptical, but I'm also curious about what things are like in places like Britain or Sweden.)
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:11 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


From first-hand accounts, the Freestyle was a high-maintenance machine that promised increased store traffic but instead spent most of it's time (upwards of 90%) serving straight Coke and Diet Coke to customers and the 'miracle' never happened.

Coke Freestyle machines aren't a thing of the past around here (South Florida). McDonald's never went for them, but Burger Kings and Wendy's have them as do other smaller chains and counter-service places. Personally I love them, it's great to be able to get diet, non-caffeinated soda at a fast food place.
posted by Daily Alice at 12:13 PM on August 2 [9 favorites]


From first-hand accounts, the Freestyle was a high-maintenance machine that promised increased store traffic but instead spent most of it's time (upwards of 90%) serving straight Coke and Diet Coke to customers and the 'miracle' never happened.

To the very slight extent I've been to restaurants that had them before the pandemic, Freestyle machines are still around. I've never seen the Pepsi version.

I don't drink non-diet drinks, and for a while I was avoiding caffeine. I really appreciated it when places had a Freestyle machine because it meant I had options aside from water.
posted by Foosnark at 12:15 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I think the problem with the Segway was primarily one of cost. It was just too expensive to get widespread adoption of the type that might have helped it create a space in urban environments.

That and the Segway was quite large and heavy. It didn't fit well into a multimodal commute, which is where small electric vehicles seem to shine. If you could ride a Segway to work, it probably meant that you lived pretty close to the office, had low-traffic roads or sidewalks or cycleways to get there on, and a secure place to store the thing at either end. If you have all those boxes ticked, there are lots of other vehicles you could use other than a Segway. (Like a bicycle—whether traditional or electric—or a scooter, or whatever.)

The little electric scooters used by Bird, Lime, et al are pretty neat. I think they have the ownership model wrong, and that "dockless" scooters and bikes are unlikely to ever be profitable, but I'm not going to complain while they're providing a nice source of cheap, surplus electric scooters on their way to bankruptcy. (I bought an ex-Bird M365 scooter for $200 a while back, a fraction of its actual retail price. Mine unfortunately doesn't fold like most civilian versions, but I'm working on fixing that.) They have enough range and speed to get you beyond "walking distance", but fold and can be carried onto a bus or train pretty easily, tossed in the trunk of even a compact car, or kept under your desk at an office. Pretty handy.

The same is true for electric folding bicycles, which seem to be getting better and better (in terms of reduced weight and increased power/range) each year. Unfortunately the nicer ones still cost as much as a used 250+cc motorcycle, but you can't bring a motorcycle onto the train with you.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:16 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


I remember the issue of FDA approval of wheelchairs; yes, I agree a lot was on the government for the regulatory burden. But I'm amazed to hear about the cost issue - in 2016, $30k would almost buy you an entire electric car (not a glamorous one, mind you, but something significantly beefier than a balancing chair). And the control systems behind the self-balancing, seen in the boogie boards and things like quadcopter drones was pretty much perfected. I fail to understand how they couldn't get this into buyable range.
posted by scolbath at 12:18 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I guess you could say the Segway was ahead of its time, but a lot of the cheaper alternatives that exist now (some of which even bear the Segway brand) don't actually include much of the tech that makes a Segway a Segway. Scooters aren't self-balancing, and it turns out that's mostly just a novelty people don't really need just to achieve last-mile transport. And as mentioned earlier in the thread, the battery tech has finally caught up to price points and weight profiles consumers seem willing to live with.

And even in light of all that, the early quote of "people will design cities around this" didn't materialize, not back then, and not now that we have so many relatively affordable and usable options. The municipality where I live, for example, recently decided to opt out of the province-wide pilot project around electric scooters, citing safety and accessibility issues related to scooter-sharing companies littering sidewalks with their crap. What this means, in theory, is that the scooters are illegal to use outside of private property even if you own one yourself. You can't use them on sidewalks (probably a good thing), you can't use them on streets (very much a bad thing). In practice, local law enforcement has basically said they don't have the resources to chase down every scooter user and fine them, but the fact remains that you're breaking the law if you use them the way they're intended to be used. It'll likely be years before scooters are allowed for street use, if it ever happens.

"design cities around this" my ass. Whoever said that back in the early 2000s clearly understood nothing about conservative city councils or broken planning regimes, which describes 90% of North America.
posted by chrominance at 12:24 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


Segway’s children are everywhere: scooters, electric-boosted skateboards, all the new backbones of the short urban commute

Hard to see the connection between the expensive Segway and these cheap, mass-produced items, other than that they both have wheels and carry one human. I suspect the rental bikes and e-bikes of the mid-2010s are the real antecedents, technologically and logistically. Scooters and boards are basically miniaturized and cheaper versions of these.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:25 PM on August 2


There is no sadder sight in the world than being at Town Lake here in Austin and seeing the face of a teenager dragged along with their family on one of the downtown Segway tours. It's one of the purest, most undiluted visions of human suffering that doesn't involve war, famine, or disease. What I'm saying here is "the dork problem" was insurmountable no matter how cool the tech was. Same thing is true for recumbent bikes and (in America) mopeds... people see somebody riding one and just think "no fucking way, not in a million years".
posted by lefty lucky cat at 12:26 PM on August 2 [26 favorites]


I don't know if this is true or if I'm just imagining it, but I've developed the habit of pressing the dispense button a moment before I put my cup into the Freestyle machine because I swear there's always a shot of the previous drink in the nozzle.

"design cities around this" my ass. Whoever said that back in the early 2000s clearly understood nothing about conservative city councils or broken planning regimes, which describes 90% of North America.

That hasn't stopped a few cities from indulging in Elon Musk's Hyperloop scam and actually handing out contracts to The Boring Company for incredibly silly tunnels which move only a tiny fraction of what conventional transit tunnels do. For every monorail there's an Ogdenville or North Haverbrook willing to go for it.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:20 PM on August 2 [13 favorites]


METAFILTER: It's one of the purest, most undiluted visions of human suffering that doesn't involve war, famine, or disease.
posted by philip-random at 1:20 PM on August 2 [28 favorites]


A couple years after its release, I recruited someone from DEKA to join the company where I was working. Mind you, it was obvious at this point that the thing was a dud. But they wouldn't stop talking about how the Segway was going to revolutionize the world and it was just about to happen and how come we didn't feel the same way and why weren't we able to see what was so obvious to them and on and on and on and on. It was like talking to someone in a cult who had been brainwashed, and there was no way to reason with them.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 1:23 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


Just so I have the terms sorted properly, a moped and a scooter look mostly alike, but a moped also has pedals for optional cycling. A push (kick) scooter looks like a skateboard with a stick. An electric (e) scooter looks like a skateboard with a stick that is battery powered.

Also, bicycles, skateboards, kick scooters, and e-scooters are generally not allowed on sidewalks, but the law really isn't enforced anywhere, as you tube has approximately one zillion videos showing examples of obnoxious and illegal use of sidewalks.

Segways were introduced before e-scooters or push scooters, but failed to stick due to cost, size, performance, and looking silly enough to be mocked in holywood movies.

Corrections appreciated.
posted by Beholder at 1:37 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


"design cities around this" my ass. Whoever said that back in the early 2000s clearly understood nothing about conservative city councils or broken planning regimes, which describes 90% of North America.

No. Whoever said this (about whichever fave alt-transport method du jour) knows nothing about cities. Period. It has nothing to do with conservative councils or broken planning. It has everything to do with the very real fact that all of these nifty little things are niche as fuck and have business models that don’t work or scale. Scooters? Build a city around them? Sure. Let’s just litter all the streets and sidewalks with them, the same way the trendy little neighborhoods are.

Governments aren’t short-sighted about these things. Rather, they see them for exactly what they are and wisely pass on the idea to revamp their cities around the things.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:45 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Rather, they see them for exactly what they are and wisely pass on the idea to revamp their cities around the things.

Exactly. What's interesting now is that, with the actual provision of bike lanes, there is room to expand that bike lane to something like "single person wheeled transport", full of bikes and e-unicycles and segways. It would be criminally stupid to design a city around Segways, but their early failure to secure a foothold for them and use that as leverage with cyclists and scooters to push for dedicated lanes for that sort of wheeled traffic, basically was taking a pass on creating the very conditions that would make Segways much more attractive options.
posted by fatbird at 2:01 PM on August 2


There is no sadder sight in the world than being at Town Lake here in Austin and seeing the face of a teenager dragged along with their family on one of the downtown Segway tours. It's one of the purest, most undiluted visions of human suffering that doesn't involve war, famine, or disease.

I miss Austin and would love to take my teenaged daughter on a Segway tour! As Calvin’s dad would say “it builds character.” Although she is a teenager who might actually enjoy that sort of thing (she’s taking two math classes her junior year of high school, entirely of her own volition).
posted by TedW at 2:03 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


lefty lucky cat: Same thing is true for recumbent bikes and (in America) mopeds... people see somebody riding one and just think "no fucking way, not in a million years".

You were right up until this sentence. I just finished RAGBRAI, and although this is just an informal impression, there seemed to be more recumbents on the road this year than in years past. They're significantly more expensive than the usual diamond frame bikes, and might be a bit more expensive to maintain and more difficult to find qualified mechanics for, but they also have some significant advantages, particularly on long rides. I see them and start asking myself if I can push out upgrading my personal electronics a year or two to get one of them.

As for mopeds... well, maybe bikes that are manufactured as such, but I've seen an increase in gas-motor-assisted bikes quite a bit in recent years, which are basically mopeds. (I suspect that at least some of their riders have lost their automobile driver licenses and don't understand that any bike with a motor assist that can drive it over 20 MPH is officially a motorcycle, at least in Illinois.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:15 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Rather, they see them for exactly what they are and wisely pass on the idea to revamp their cities around the things.

Exactly.


Maybe I'm missing something, but how would a city that has designated segway lanes be any different than one that has dedicated bike lanes?

Let’s just litter all the streets and sidewalks with them, the same way the trendy little neighborhoods are.

This comment especially makes no sense considering that many popular neighborhoods have moved dining outdoors with COVID. Did that 'litter' streets?

It's like one step away from "I need my mega truck to park in front of the WalMart cuz that's America!"
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:23 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


I'd love to have a Segway. Due to knee and back issues I can make it maybe two blocks before I have to stop and sit down. I don't get around much anymore. A Segway would be a game changer.
posted by Splunge at 2:24 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Halloween Jack - I watched RAGRAI arrive (and *party*) in sweltering Waterloo last week, and noted both an increase in recumbents and an (slight) expansion of their user base beyond "bearded retired sociology professor." But then RAGBRAI always has a lot of unique bikes, anyway.

On topic: everyone I've ever met that rode a Segway seemed to really like it! But I never met a single person who thought they were anything but a novelty from the get-go. E-bikes, on the other hand, are gaining traction FAST among my Gen X cohort.
posted by Caxton1476 at 2:28 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


There's at least one company that runs Segway tours in the downtown area. It was reliably booked pretty much every day pre-pandemic for many years.

They've also had a lingering afterlife in DC as a medium for the lowest common denominator flavor of local "walking" tours - I saw a pod of them on Pennsylvania Avenue last week. I've wondered if they're maintained by cannibalizing a vast Segway graveyard somewhere.

It has everything to do with the very real fact that all of these nifty little things are niche as fuck and have business models that don’t work or scale.

One of the things I've noticed here during COVID is the rapid uptick in adoption, and the increasing diversity of people using both scooters and the shared mopeds. Initially, it was almost exclusively young, obviously affluent white people - now, esp. as there are more of them and they more widely distributed, the ridership looks a lot more like the baseline demographics of the city. I've also seen lots of tourists using them, many of them no doubt getting their 1st exposure to the concept. I think they're here to stay.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:34 PM on August 2


The recent Decoder Ring episode on this was quite good, for anyone who might want to enjoy similar information in an audio format. I was really entertained by it.
posted by possibilityleft at 2:36 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


You were right up until this sentence. I just finished RAGBRAI, and although this is just an informal impression, there seemed to be more recumbents on the road this year than in years past.

My judgement comes from walking up and down Speedway, which splits the UT Austin campus down the middle, where every conveyance known to humankind eventually appears. Segways and recumbent bikes are consistently and audibly scorned, electric scooters are derided but not for reasons of style, mopeds are OK if you are a woman and/or Italian (these are my observations, not my opinions), unicycles are comical but are meant to be so nobody is hurt by the laughter they elicit, and nothing else really gets much of a response... bicycles, skateboards, longboards, hoverboards, mobility scooters, wheelchairs, horses, golf carts, etc.

I'm not willing to commit 100% to this, but I suspect there are some means of transportation that create an impression of the human body that is just fundamentally repugnant on some deep animal level, that create dissonance between what we see a body doing and any of the locomotions it has been so exquisitely shaped for over millennia. Skateboards and scooters celebrate the hips, bicycles are what legs clearly dream about. Walking needs no further decoration; it is our birthright and continuing legacy. Segways and recumbent bikes? They suggest leaning and childbirth as means of locomotion respectively, which (while both awesome in their own right) they so self-evidently are not.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 2:37 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


Rather, they see them for exactly what they are and wisely pass on the idea to revamp their cities around the things.

The idea that city councils are wise in this regard is a bit of a laugh. And actually if a city was designed around, say, scooter rental companies the streets would NOT be littered with scooters, they’d have proper infrastructure to deal with it.

Not defending them one way or another, just being clear about what “design a city around” means.

Ultimately I’m most aligned with the analysis that the current city infrastructure was nowhere near sufficient to support Segways, and that further development of the idea shows pretty clearly how things can work with battery powered personal transportation. It takes a lot more humility than Great Men have to honestly look at the messy human details of technological adaptation.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:41 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


> Kadin2048:
"I bought an ex-Bird M365 scooter for $200 a while back, a fraction of its actual retail price"

uhhhh can i get some details on this? memail is fine if you don't want to put it in the thread.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 2:57 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


there's no way I'd ever ride one in my neighborhood on a daily basis. It would probably take a while before somebody took me up on the offer of a really easy mugging, but I can't imagine looking people in the eye at a bus stop while riding one

They weren't at all uncommon in the neighborhood I just moved from. People riding scooters, hoverboards, longboards, or anything else except unicycles and Segways were a daily sight. I suspect one would get a lot more side eye here in deep suburbia.

The problem with using anything but a car or your own two feet to get around out here is that there's no space for anything because it's all huge road. If you're lucky there's a bike lane, but it's fucking suicidal given that people drive at highway speeds everywhere, so you get the choice of being the asshole riding on the sidewalk (not that there are many pedestrians) or fulfilling a death wish.
posted by wierdo at 3:01 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Let’s just litter all the streets and sidewalks with them, the same way the trendy little neighborhoods are.

Better than the status quo of the streets and sidewalks being littered with cars. But electric scooters etc are the new thing, so we notice them and get angry about them even though they are no worse and in many ways better than the nuisance we all have had to put up with our entire lives.
posted by wierdo at 3:08 PM on August 2 [27 favorites]


They suggest leaning and childbirth as means of locomotion respectively, which (while both awesome in their own right) they so self-evidently are not.

If only they had been invented two and a half millennia ago when they would have had the regal bearing of a horseless chariot.
posted by meinvt at 3:09 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Segways seem large, expensive, and slow. On a practical level, they do not seem like a reasonable vehicle to incorporate into most lifestyles. I have only seen them as a tourist novelty (a friend tried it and did like it) or as something a rich person owned, i.e. a high mockery muck in my old work building. It's large to deal with and doesn't seem to go that much faster than walking. Why bother?
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:12 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


Just like love, it's all about timing.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:12 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


The Segway looks creepy, honestly. Like, you sort of loom awkwardly over everyone. But people would get used to that over time, I guess.

It seems clear that Kamen and them just drove everywhere in cities and never walked much or took transit. You look at one of those things and you think: if I lived in the suburbs it just wouldn't have the range or the speed to be useful, unlike an eBike; if I lived in the city I would constantly be trying to get it onto the bus or the train or up a flight of stairs and that's bad enough with a bike; it has no obvious capacity to be locked, unlike a bike, which means I am not sure where I leave it when I am, eg, at the grocery store; it's too wide for any but downtown-type sidewalks; unlike a bike there's no really obvious way to add a basket, panniers or a trailer, which makes it inferior as primary transportation. And although sometimes it will work for people with disabilities, a lot of the time it won't because it requires standing and leaning for extended periods - I have a lightly disabling back injury, for instance, and I can bike because biking is sitting but I can't stand for long periods.

The only good thing about it would be that you could commute in business clothes with no difficulty and even there range and speed are issues unless you live really close to work.

It just seems like the invention of someone who drives everywhere and doesn't spend much time in cities.
posted by Frowner at 3:13 PM on August 2 [21 favorites]


Scooters? Build a city around them? Sure. Let’s just litter all the streets and sidewalks with them, the same way the trendy little neighborhoods are.

Counterpoint: Cars man! Why?!

They pollute to the point of killing the planet, turn the vast majority of public space into death zones, and consume a massive proportion of human space into parking lots. Anything that gets people out of cars and into basically any other mode of transport (short of personal rocket launches; fuck you, billionaires) is to be desired.

As for parking and sidewalk sharing, let's recognize the problems that come with the benefits, and solve then instead of crying like nimby boomers.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:22 PM on August 2 [16 favorites]


the one and only time that I would have liked to have had access to a Segway was when I was walking along the National Mall in Washington

Halloween Jack, that was me you saw! Probably an hour into the tour, when I was still enjoying it. Two hours into the tour, I wanted to shift my feet because I was uncomfortable, but every time I did, the Segway would buck. By the end of the tour, I was so exhausted from not moving my feet I fell off the thing and injured a tendon.

Caxton, I would have liked it if only it had a brake so you could freeze it and shift your feet. I'm sure I would have learned how to do it eventually, but there I was dodging terrifying DC traffic!

Give me a brake and I'd ride it again. But I can't imagine being elderly and not falling off it all the time.
posted by acrasis at 3:37 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


"The Segway looks creepy, honestly. Like, you sort of loom awkwardly over everyone"

This aspect of the Segway was used to great effect by Will Arnett in Arrested Development.

I wouldn't be surprised if AD's Gob Bluth made a lasting negative impression on the brand. Gob was riding a Segway on TV just two years later.
posted by deadaluspark at 3:41 PM on August 2 [6 favorites]


This comment especially makes no sense considering that many popular neighborhoods have moved dining outdoors with COVID. Did that 'litter' streets?

I don't know about where you live but here in DC any new outdoor dining spaces (AKA "streateries") had to be permitted, and part of the permitting process is making sure that the new spaces or structures don't reduce accessibility. I mean, sure, they took parking spaces away from cars, but the tradeoff seems to have been worth it. Some restaurants might not be operating their outdoor dining spaces within their permits, and that's an accessibility problem that should be addressed, but it's not litter.

What's litter is a micro mobility flavor of the week scooter or bike left perpendicular to the sidewalk, blocking a curb cut, or simply left on a sidewalk without enough clearance for someone to get by in a wheelchair (or even on foot, as I encountered in Venice, CA). In some places cities have taken over one or two car parking spaces in an area and turned them into a home for bike racks and scooters, and that's a reasonable solution for micro mobility parking in crowded areas. You can park a dozen bikes or scooters in the same space one car would take up and no sidewalks end up blocked as long as users aren't jerks. But we all know how depending on people not to be jerks works out.
posted by fedward at 3:44 PM on August 2 [12 favorites]


Yeah, my city here in the UK outsources rentable O-fficial e-scooters, half from demand, half from utility and the largest half from providing a fig leaf for not policing the innumerable illegal-on-road-or-pavement privately-owned scooters which have been getting people to their destinations and knocking over pedestrians for a couple of years now.

The Segway was easily mocked but clearly before its time with criticisms like the difficulty of carrying stuff, lack of weather protection, vulnerability to traffic, etc broadly refuted by the fact that as a pedestrian in a city of ~200K people I can dodge a happy handful of these 30mph basteroids daily, with only the very, very, very slightest imp-of-the-perverse urge to throw out an arm at throat height in order to see what happens to both of us
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 3:46 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


the one and only time that I would have liked to have had access to a Segway was when I was walking along the National Mall in Washington, DC--and realizing, to my increasing exhaustion, that it was two miles long

Google Maps says it's 2.3 miles from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol but I always round it up to two and a half when I'm talking to visitors who think they might want to walk it. I've done it several times myself, but the first time actually caught me out as well. (This is the direction you should walk it because there are restaurants and bars near the Capitol and it's easier to catch a cab there than by the Lincoln Memorial).

(Also the walk around the Tidal Basin is longer than it looks).
posted by fedward at 3:54 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]


I always felt the Segway was designed for the people who live in architects drawings.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:01 PM on August 2 [19 favorites]


https://vancouver.ca/news-calendar/council-approves-electric-kick-scooter-pilot-project.aspx

Vancouver is one of 8 communities around the province that is allowing scooters on small roads and protected bike lanes as part of a pilot program expected to run until 2024.

The province notes that it remains illegal to ride scooters on sidewalks and on any car lane of a major road, but understands this is still a good alternative to driving a personal car and wants to learn how to integrate scooters safely.
posted by praiseb at 4:04 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


The Segway was just simply too big and bulky to be practical. You couldn't put it in your car, or take it on the bus or a train. Point A was your home and Point B was your destination, and if it were more than a couple of miles, a Segway was not a good choice to take you there. So it was good for city dwellers pretty much exclusively, but even if you could store it at your home, could you take it to the office? Bring it inside next to your desk? Or leave it in a parking lot? Just so so impractical.

I remember a story about how the post office somewhere bought a fleet of Segways for mailmen to deliver mail on their routes, but in winter they all had a problem with being too cold. Turns out simply walking kept their body temperatures up, but just effectively standing still on a Segway was an easy way to hypothermia.
posted by zardoz at 4:19 PM on August 2 [8 favorites]


Dean Kamen is still an enormously influential person, BTW, as the founder of FIRST Robotics.

https://www.firstinspires.org/about/leadership/dean-kamen

That's a pipeline for elementary to high school kids interested in robotics and engineering.
posted by subdee at 4:38 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


I think Dean Kamen's greatest invention is First Robotics, which runs competitions for teams of kids working together on engineering challenges. It's a really well run and well designed program that emphasizes Gracious Professionalism and Coopertition (combining cooperation and competition). The guy has had some dumb ideas, but he's had some good ones too, and he never stops trying to come up with new ones.
posted by rikschell at 4:43 PM on August 2 [12 favorites]


I’m glad a couple of folks have stepped in to mention FIRST. I had the opportunity to referee our (small) state competition for a couple years and it was a well organized and inspiring event. I particularly appreciated the code of behavior and the way it encouraged exploration and self-sufficiency for the kids.
posted by meinvt at 4:53 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


What I'm saying here is "the dork problem" was insurmountable no matter how cool the tech was. Same thing is true for recumbent bikes

So I've been riding recumbent bikes for nearly 20 years at this point. When I first started, I got lots of questions, comments, stares, and waves. I always felt like I was a parade, just by existing. At some point that faded. I thought maybe I had just gotten used to it. But then we got a sail trike and stuck it on the back of another trike to make a sail tandem (with dog in side-basket). Now I feel like I'm in a parade again. What that tells me is that recumbent bicycles have become more normal and common and mainstream.
posted by aniola at 5:44 PM on August 2 [14 favorites]


Oh also btw recumbent bikes weren't common for most of the 20th century because they won all the races and the UCI kicked them out of the races early on because they were an 'unfair technological advantage' which is less a dork problem and more like "erm we are not yet ready for your amazingness"
posted by aniola at 5:44 PM on August 2 [19 favorites]


Now I wonder if they still do those Segway tours at EPCOT.

I always do a double take when I see a recumbent bike, because at first it looks to me like somebody is in the process of falling off a regular bicycle.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:17 PM on August 2


The first thing that popped into my head when I saw a Segway was Oat Willie
posted by cybrcamper at 6:17 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


Segway racing just isn't cool ... but there's hope for scooters.
posted by philip-random at 6:32 PM on August 2


What's litter is a micro mobility flavor of the week scooter or bike left perpendicular to the sidewalk, blocking a curb cut, or simply left on a sidewalk without enough clearance for someone to get by in a wheelchair (or even on foot, as I encountered in Venice, CA).

What you're describing are problems caused by scooter sharing services like Bird, especially dockless systems. Those are all fair problems that need to be worked out through thoughtful regulation or just not allowing these kinds of systems in your city. But that's not what's happening where I live; here, the concerns about dockless systems are so severe that the city just decided not to allow scooters AT ALL. The type of sharing or ownership does not matter; it's all illegal.

As far as I'm concerned, scooter owners basically act like cyclists. All the same infrastructure you'd have for bikes can also work for scooters. And regarding the sidewalk clutter issue, if anything they might be more likely to take their scooters off the street entirely at their destination (versus a cyclist who pretty much has to lock the bike up on the sidewalk or find a place to stash it), since they're more compact than normal bikes. So why is it fine to ride a bike, even an electric bike, on the street, but not a scooter? No one has ever been able to articulate a good reason except for reasons that don't actually have to do with scooters themselves, but the shitty companies that run scooter rental services that only represent one method of getting scooters on the street.
posted by chrominance at 6:37 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


I dunno why the guy feels bad about himself. There were ridiculous amounts of money around at the time for half-baked ideas. He scooped up some while the scooping was good. At least he's not like Eddie Bell (former wunderkind at HarperCollins UK, responsible for signing Jeffrey Archer and his endless stream of Thatcherite jazz mags) who just before the Ginger book dropped had passed on signing J K Rowling, but had signed up the autobiog of a former mayor of Glasgow for rather more than the Kemper advance. That book sold 20 copies, and Eddie knew it was time to be gone.

As for Kamen and the Fred device, a final price of $30K is surprisingly reasonable compared to some power wheelchairs that are out there. Yes, $30K is iniquitous and wrong, but that's the disability tax: plus some massive lobbying from manufacturers to keep their old designs standard for insurance eligibility.
posted by scruss at 6:38 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


People in cars are far more inconsiderate of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers with how they choose the park and drive cars and trucks than any person on an electric scooter. The idea that so much of peoples rage is directed at scooters vs cars suggests to a serious misplacement of priorities.
posted by interogative mood at 6:47 PM on August 2 [9 favorites]


My rage is directed at the dockless-scooters carelessly left behind on the sidewalk. Cars aren't usually parked there.
posted by Rash at 6:54 PM on August 2 [5 favorites]


Mr.Know-it-some: it also results in overpayment because the people getting the wheelchairs aren't paying directly, and incentives matter. (Yes, the program should be better run, but that's easy to say and hard to do.)

2) There are a lot of other countries that are not as capitalistic. Do they have better power wheelchairs?


What I have noticed is that government-run healthcare tends to have lower costs because the incentives involved aren't what you'd initially think. The incentive in a capitalist system is to advertise as much as possible so that people will spend as much as possible. Advertise as much as possible so that people who have money demand more of it and spend more on it. That's part of why Americans spend twice as much on healthcare as anybody else. The incentive in a government-run system is to do things cheaply and not advertise at all, because more demand equals higher taxes and higher taxes equals angry taxpayers.
posted by clawsoon at 7:23 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


The Segway always struck me as an unjustifiable realization of an engineer's bong dream. "Wouldn't it be cool if, like, you could put the wheels on a scooter side by side and not have the rider instantly faceplant?"

From the viewpoint of engineering-as-sculpture, making the balance work on such a thing is cool. As an actual device to be used by actual people in the actual world? Not so much. Human proprioception plus inline wheels just costs less and works better and to my way of thinking that's where real engineering always needs to aim.
posted by flabdablet at 7:31 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


Whenever I think of the Segway, I think of this news article and I smile.

So it has that going for it.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:39 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


The Segway always struck me as an unjustifiable realization of an engineer's bong dream. "Wouldn't it be cool if, like, you could put the wheels on a scooter side by side and not have the rider instantly faceplant?"

From the viewpoint of engineering-as-sculpture, making the balance work on such a thing is cool. As an actual device to be used by actual people in the actual world? Not so much. Human proprioception plus inline wheels just costs less and works better and to my way of thinking that's where real engineering always needs to aim.


Yep.

And I remember all the hype around Project Ginger aka Segway and how they were promising ridiculous speeds and ranges out of the devices and so on and so forth...

...but a lot of their predictions are coming true. It's just not Segways that are the part that's coming true.

Ebikes are exploding in popularity all over the place, but so are electric scooters and skateboards as well as weird self balancing single wheel devices that are capable of the 20-30 MPH speeds once promised by Ginger/Segway.

The Segway was just awkward all around from the size and weight to the speed and range to the whole conceit of putting two wheels side by side.

I've ridden a few Segways and the act of riding them just isn't stable, comfortable or intuitive and it's super awkward trying to get used to something that self balances on two wheels side by side and that has to turn without leaning like a bike or scooter or anything with two in-line wheels, or even monowheels.

Anyway, here's a prediction for MetaFilter:

Sometime soon, self balancing, self driving electric bikes, scooters, mopeds, motorcycles and related 1-2 wheel vehicles will be a thing, and it will probably happen long before self driving cars or driverless rideshare services are a thing.

I think this will happen before self driving pilotless cars and rideshares particularly because of the less intense regulatory environment as well as the reduced cost and reduced complexity of smaller electric personal mobility devices, and how it will be primarily used as an added convenience feature for low speed use like self parking, orbiting or just following an owner or user around on foot and not a replacement for a human pilot.

I'm already starting to see prototype electric motorcycles and scooters out there that are capable of self-balancing and driving.

While stability control will likely be one use of this option and technology, one thing that will happen is that dockless electric scooters and bikes will be able to park and manage themselves and stop cluttering sidewalks as well as bringing themselves to a location to be charged.

The other thing that will happen is that people who privately own ebikes and scooters will use this feature to have their personal electric vehicle follow them around at walking speeds for use while, say, walking with a group of other people who are on foot, as opposed to awkwardly pushing the heavy ebike or scooter along with them.

Someone who owns or uses one of these devices could do things like load up a cargo ebike full of groceries and it would be capable of following them around like a burro or horse while they finish their shopping or go bar hopping or whatever.

This potential future is so close that it wouldn't be impossible for me to DIY a self-balancing add-on kit out of stock parts for my already existing ebike. The technology is right there. People are already working on this.

I would love this feature, especially if it was capable of following me on a footpath or hiking trail and able to navigate fairly rough terrain instead of me awkwardly trying to push it next to me on a narrow trail.
posted by loquacious at 8:47 PM on August 2 [7 favorites]


Ebikes are exploding in popularity all over the place

I saw a group of senior citizens zipping around at 20+ mph a few weeks ago and thought yep, this can really chip away at the need for cars, ICE or electric. I think it's the right intersection of cost, top speed, safety (e-scoots are fun, but yikes), usability (also a yikes on e-scoots) and energy use (both the energy for propulsion and that used to make the bike).
posted by MillMan at 9:05 PM on August 2


The funny thing is, if you look at the herd of electric scooters blanketing our downtowns pre-pandemic, he was almost right about the need for electric last mile transport. He was just too early, got the ownership model wrong, and overcomplicated it.

the segway ended up being just a segue
posted by fairmettle at 9:34 PM on August 2 [13 favorites]


The faults of the Segway have been exhaustively detailed by many. What I think is maybe the more interesting story is that of the the Chinese 'hoverboard' copies that were a fraction of the price, and almost always shoddily built and often blew up because they were so poorly designed. That Segway was eventually sold to the Chinese company Ninebot- it's fitting in a sense. There are now many battery powered wheeled transport devices on the market be it the onewheel or the Boosted Board (which also went bankrupt). Until batteries become safer, the cheap ones will be dangerous to own and the expensive ones will have a niche market. There is a market for battery-powered transport, but no one has really built the 'iphone' of that segment yet.
posted by gen at 10:21 PM on August 2 [1 favorite]




weird self balancing single wheel devices

as envisioned by Johnny Hart, not Dean Kamen.
posted by flabdablet at 10:27 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Until batteries become safer, the chap ones will be dangerous to own and

the house three doors down burned down a few months ago due to a faulty scooter battery being charged in the basement. Seven people out of a home. One lost cat.
posted by philip-random at 10:30 PM on August 2 [2 favorites]


> faulty scooter battery

Chinese, no doubt. Do not allow Chinese-made lithium ion batteries into your house without strict supervision or a chemical fireproof container. There are no effective product regulations on Chinese-made batteries. And when batteries made outside of China still burn (Tesla big battery fire in Victoria under control after burning more than three days) it's clearly a technology that is still evolving. That battery fire in Australia- there was no way to stop it- they only had to let it burn out.

See also the ongoing Chevrolet Bolt recall (batteries made by LG in Korea.)
posted by gen at 10:41 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


The single wheel toys look quite surprisingly capable.
posted by flabdablet at 10:43 PM on August 2 [4 favorites]


i walk a wide-ish trail in a city park. the ebike combination of lame rider + extra speed makes me despise them. i long for the old no-powered-vehicles-on-trail-rule. (and we wore onions on our belts...)
posted by j_curiouser at 12:50 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


Coke Freestyle machines aren't a thing of the past around here (South Florida).
--Daily Alice

I've seen a lot of them around here too (Silicon Valley area). (Though all get-it-yourself drink dispensers got shut down with Covid).

You don't see Segways being used except at tourist spots (though I've seen Steve Wozniak and friends play Segway polo at a local park). But I've seen a number of people commuting using various One Wheel type devices, which operate on the same general principle as a Segway, though are much smaller.
posted by eye of newt at 12:56 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


I think most of the rage about scooters could be eliminated if it went from primarily a renter user base to an owner user base. Owners would either lock the scooters up outside like a bike or take them inside with them.

Around 2002 or 2003 my boyfriend and I both had Zappy electric scooters. We thought for sure that they were gonna catch on like wildfire then. They were the precursor to all those black scooters you see around today. They went a max of 14 mph, and could go 6 miles on a charge, and you could fold them up and bring them inside with you, or lock them up outside.

They were absolutely incredible for getting around NYC. My bf would use his to get to work everyday from Williamsburg in Bkln to Chelsea (except in extremely cold weather when scootering over the Williamsburg bridge was just too cold to bear), And I would regularly use mine to pick up cases of supplies a mile or so away, the case goods resting on the foot rest and me riding with one foot on the top of it and one foot behind it, like a modern day pirate. I would also take it from LES to Javits center (which is far west side, the closest subway long avenue blocks away) when the F&B show was on, lock it up outside. It was an easy decision to leave the neighborhood for dinner when getting to the west side or uptown didn't require going down into the subway or onto a slow moving bus or an expensive cab ride. They were great in the hot summers, because without effort you were creating a breeze for yourself as you went, and we invested in some rapid chargers and were able to go to farther flung places on them.

I was always surprised that that first generation of the electric scooter didn't catch on, it really is a pretty efficient way to travel in dense cities.

A friend of mine bought a couple of the new model scooters just before pandemic hit, and boy was it fun to be out on one again. They really are a great way to get around the city but just like with bikes you have to be both aware the dangers from car traffic and considerate of pedestrians around you.
posted by newpotato at 2:56 AM on August 3 [5 favorites]


I agree that it certainly isn't the authors fault - its marketing mixed with the cost made no sense. The average walker wasn't going to pay that kind of money to use it in a city not designed for it.

However, I'm another who has taken a Segway Tour... I loved it, it was a real trip highlight. We booted around part of Malta with on Segways with off-road wheels; it was fun and allowed us to see more in less time than a walking tour in the same area.

In hind-sight, they probably should have marketed even more towards this idea - that they weren't meant to be owned, but rented, or used in group activities.
posted by Laura in Canada at 6:25 AM on August 3


Yes, sidewalk eating can cause significant problems for wheelchair and impaired mobility individuals, and no, it's not jacked up front row truck parking at MuricaMart, so much as people with difficulties having more barriers
posted by Jacen at 7:19 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


Segways and recumbent bikes? They suggest leaning and childbirth as means of locomotion respectively, which (while both awesome in their own right) they so self-evidently are not.

...recumbent bikes suggest childbirth to you? I... I don't know what to say.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:50 AM on August 3 [8 favorites]


Yes, sidewalk eating can cause significant problems for wheelchair and impaired mobility individuals, and no, it's not jacked up front row truck parking at MuricaMart, so much as people with difficulties having more barriers

Maybe it can, but I've been all over multiple cities and states with a pair of disabled elderly relatives over 2 months, and spent 6 weeks with a knee scooter last year, and outdoor dining and poorly placed scooters haven't actually been a problem. Lack of sidewalks, missing ramps or elevators, engineers and construction jerkoffs placing things in the middle of narrow sidewalks, and cars halfway across sidewalks is constantly a problem, all of which would be solved if 20 years ago when the segway was a 'new thing', cities would have built dedicated space for them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:53 AM on August 3 [6 favorites]


Oh I forgot - the joy of indoor dining being closed with COVID, and disabled people without cars barred from the drive-thru. Let's just make all the food. Outdoor dining was a blessing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:04 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


No discussion of Segway is complete without side-eye at the Sinclair C[log]5. MetaPrev
Sinclair Jnr's IRIS is faster [50km/h] and coster [£5k/$7k].
/end horizontal derail.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:52 AM on August 3 [1 favorite]


I remember Art Bell hyping it as if it was going to be some huge deal and being disappointed when it was revealed
posted by Jacqueline at 10:32 AM on August 3 [3 favorites]


As far as I'm concerned, scooter owners basically act like cyclists. All the same infrastructure you'd have for bikes can also work for scooters. … So why is it fine to ride a bike, even an electric bike, on the street, but not a scooter?

This is a real question in places like NYC, the poster city for stupid bans until last year. One approach (and the one taken up in New York) has been a 3-class system that's governed by whether the device has a throttle (or just pedal assist) and what top speed it has. Devices traveling at faster-than-pedestrian-but-slower-than-car speeds should all be able to share non-sidewalk infrastructure, but that depends on the infrastructure being there in the first place and the laws not being written in such a way as to preemptively ban devices that didn't exist when the rules were written. It also depends on sensible laws and enforcement in the places where the bike lane runs out, and safer habits from drivers who aren't yet looking for non-car things in spaces they expect only cars to be. I've had drivers yell at me for riding my bike legally in the street, because they all assume (incorrectly) that bikes are supposed to be on the sidewalk. So, it's a process.

(Note: regulations in the EU are different than regulations in the US, but I don't live in the EU and can't talk about how they do or don't work.)

This goes back to one of the points made about Segway above: they were so convinced of the rightness of what they were doing they didn't bother to use their (brief) time in the zeitgeist to lobby for better infrastructure and regulations. Thanks to their other failings (e.g. high price, dorkiness) they didn't stay in the zeitgeist long enough to matter anyway, so it's a moot point.
posted by fedward at 10:41 AM on August 3 [2 favorites]


I'd always disparaged the Segway until I was out for a walk on a lovely seaside, and chatted with a guy with mobility issues, he was not going to ever be able to walk more than a few feet. An he loved going along the shore. His Segway vastly improved his life.
posted by sammyo at 12:39 PM on August 3 [7 favorites]


Devices traveling at faster-than-pedestrian-but-slower-than-car speeds should all be able to share non-sidewalk infrastructure

I see motorcycles sometimes now on the bridge bike lanes. Mopeds regularly but sometimes full on motorcycles. I don't like it even if they're traveling ebike/scooter speeds. They're very loud and very wide.

But I don't know if there's a principled opposition to it? Some cargo bikes are wide also. As long as two motorcycles can safely go by each other, is there a valid reason to keep them off bike lanes?
posted by Salamandrous at 3:49 PM on August 3


I'd rather we just kept most private cars (and bigger) off public streets.
posted by aniola at 3:53 PM on August 3 [5 favorites]


In Portland, Oregon, the scooters were repeatedly left all over sidewalks, especially downtown

It's really easy, as you walk past them, to hit the handlebars and tip them over. That doesn't do much for the accessibility issues, but I have dragged one out of a disabled parking spot. Be creative.
posted by bendy at 6:28 PM on August 3


You know what was a cool wheeled-pedestrian technology that also undeservedly crashed and burned like twenty years ago? Rollerblades. I miss rollerblades.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:17 PM on August 3


You know what was a cool wheeled-pedestrian technology that also undeservedly crashed and burned like twenty years ago? Rollerblades. I miss rollerblades.


How do you feel about Heelies
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:26 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


Do not allow Chinese-made lithium ion batteries into your house without strict supervision or a chemical fireproof container.... And when batteries made outside of China still burn... it's clearly a technology that is still evolving.

Here is a nicely written post on Li-Ion Safety that I refer to whenever having to work with this technology. Excerpt:

"Charging is where there is the most potential for explosive action. Never charge Li-Ion cells unattended.

What was that again? NEVER CHARGE LI-ION CELLS UNATTENDED!!!

Set up your charging area to eliminate combustible materials. Charge outside if you have to.

When a Li-Ion cell explodes, it reminds me of a road flare. It doesn't last as long, but there are flames coming out and sparks flying everywhere. Lots of smoke and fumes too. I am not interested in lighting a flare in my house, and so I take a lot of precautions to make sure that if something does go wrong it is contained in a reasonable manor."

posted by fairmettle at 9:01 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]


One thing that I had heard about the Segway vs. those One-Wheel guys is that, not only did Kamen overbuild the machine, he also way oversolved the balancing problem. He put in all kinds of gyroscopes and tilt sensors whereas the newer balancing wheels just have, like, two accelerometers, one in front and one in back.

I think part of this is, once you make the decision to put the two wheels side-by-side, you need to turn by driving the wheels at different speeds, which means your control system needs to sense and respond to lateral acceleration. With a single wheel or inline wheels you can turn by physically banking, and you are left with a very simple control system with one degree of freedom (wheel power) and one input (difference in acceleration front to back).

Now obviously it's easy to dunk on Kamen for this because bicycles exist. And it's possible that if he were from somewhere with bike culture he would have realized it sooner (maybe don't try to revolutionize urban transportation from Manchester CT?) But I can definitely see a roomful of people saying "we want anyone to be able to ride this but a lot of people are too old or infirm for bikes, so obviously that won't work". Per the article, market research would have definitely made a difference.
posted by goingonit at 5:37 AM on August 4 [1 favorite]


I am not interested in lighting a flare in my house, and so I take a lot of precautions to make sure that if something does go wrong it is contained in a reasonable manor.

But I thought they were against charging in their house. Heyo!
posted by Monochrome at 6:03 AM on August 4 [3 favorites]


So why is it fine to ride a bike, even an electric bike, on the street, but not a scooter?

I rent these things fairly often (my house is on the "home zone" for both Bird and Neuron, and a 40 minute walk up a hill from some good restaurants and bars). I generally stick to the quiet streets, or busy ones with bike lanes, rarely going on the sidewalk, and never on the sidewalk on heavy pedestrian streets.

My main problems on the street:
  • I can't turn-signal - I need two hands on this thing or I'll fall off
  • They're slow. I think they go max 20 km/h even when not further speed-restricted near busy pedestrian streets. That's not always fast enough to get out of the way of a car door or right hook or what have you.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:01 AM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I'm slow on a bike. I probably go about max 20km/h on flat roads. That's why I sometimes take the lane (instead of the bike lane) where I won't get doored and am less likely to get right hooked.
posted by aniola at 2:58 PM on August 6


You know what was a cool wheeled-pedestrian technology that also undeservedly crashed and burned like twenty years ago? Rollerblades. I miss rollerblades.

I crashed and burned on rollerblades about twenty years ago, to the tune of five titanium screws in my hip and a detached retina.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:30 PM on August 6


I guess the problem with scooters isn't the max speed in a straight line, so much as the speed at which you can maneuver. It's not like coasting on a bike.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:36 PM on August 6


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