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What is a Segway®?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 November 2014
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A Segway® Personal Transporter, also called a Ginger or Personal Transport (PT,) is a two-wheeled transportation device related to a scooter. Pioneered in 2001, the Segway® is the invention of American entrepreneur Dean Kamen, also known for his work on all-terrain electric wheelchairs. Some experts believe the Segway® is a revolutionary technology that will change transportation in the world, while others consider it a glorified scooter of real use only to technology fans.

The idea for the self-balancing vehicle came from Kamen’s work on the iBOT®, an electric wheelchair that can climb stairs and balance on two wheels. Kamen also based the systems of the Segway® on the balancing mechanisms of the human body. The device was premiered on the television show Good Morning, America in 2001, with supporters claiming it was as revolutionary as the personal computer or even the automobile.

The machine operates based on the motions of the rider. Five silicon, gyroscopic sensors detect what direction the rider is leaning and send signals to the machine’s computer. Leaning forward will make the device go forward, leaning back will make it go in reverse. Turning motions are accomplished by twisting a grip on the handlebars of the machine or, in later models, leaning in the desired direction. It also features a speed control mechanism, created to prevent the rider from leaning too far and overbalancing the machine.

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The Segway®weighs about 86 lbs (39 kg,) and has a top speed of 12.5 miles per hour (20 kph.) It runs on charged batteries, and must be charged for about 8-10 hours for a 15-25 mile (25-40) journey. It has no braking system, and as such is often considered an illegal road vehicle. Concerns about pedestrian safety have led to bans and limits on use in several countries.

Two high-profile recalls have possibly damaged the sales of the vehicle, although both problems were quickly resolved. In 2003, the devices were recalled due to concern about machine failure as batteries ran down. Patched software was implanted, able to sense low battery warnings and slow to a halt as batteries run down. In 2006, a flaw was detected that could cause the wheels to suddenly reverse, leading to several injuries. 23,500 vehicles were recalled and had improved software added to counter the problem.

Although originally devised for pedestrian transportation akin to scooters or bikes, the Segway® has developed several other uses. In France, Thailand and other countries, group tourism is often conducted on the vehicles. Theme parks, police departments and postal offices have all piloted the use of the Segway® as a company transportation device. In film production, the vehicle has gained popularity as a mode of shooting notoriously tricky tracking shots, allowing the camera to follow its movement path smoothly.

Despite initial predictions, the Segway® has not sold as well as anticipated. From 2001-2007, only 30,000 units were sold. As of 2007, the price range begins at about $5,145 US Dollars (USD,) although advanced models sell for up to $6175 USD. The device has not yet overtaken conventional forms of personal transportation, but after only a few years in production, it remains to be seen what its true influence on the vehicle market will be.

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