> Noting good can come from this new personal transpiration device. It will
> only serve to make Americans FATTER than they already are, by reducing
> exercise. Just what this critically obese society needs now, right?
> In addition, it will create hazards and annoyances on our sidewalks. Even if
> we restrict it to streets (assuming such rules could be enforced), it will
> slow traffic and cause hazards there as well.
Your two arguments contradict each other to a degree. If the Segway
gets people out of their cars for short trips, exercise is a non-issue.
If it gets people off of bicycles, the traffic problems aren't any
greater than those already posed by bicycles (and, in fact,
considerably less traffic-clogging going uphill).
And there's a limit to how much the Segway can contribute to obesity.
It maxes out at about 250 pounds capacity.
Bicycles are supposed to be ridden on the streets, but if there aren't
any or many pedestrians about, cyclists often use the sidewalk. I think
that's appropriate, and helps traffic flow. I'd expect the same dynamic
to apply to the Segway. It maxes out at about 12.5 mph; bicycles can go
much faster, and I haven't seen a Sweeps Week sensational news story on
the rash of bicycle/pedestrian or accidents. Or jogger/walker
accidents, for that matter.
You seem to be assuming a few things. One is that most people now walk
or ride bicycles to run their daily errands as a rule. Outside of the
centers of the few biggest cities, that's not true. Most suburbanites
can't get much of anywhere on foot without a serious hike (often down
streets with no sidewalks), but the round trip to the grocery store or
Blockbuster is well within Segway range.
For example, my local Publix (Blockbuster is in the same strip mall) is
1.4 miles from my house, according to Yahoo Maps. According to the
Segway site, that's 28 minutes each way on foot, 9 minutes each way on
a Segway. Yahoo says it's three minutes each way in a car (which seems
about right, depending on traffic and lights). The Segway would be
attractive for a quick grocery run. There's no way I'd do that on foot
unless I felt like taking a long afternoon walk and the grocery
shopping was incidental. So the Segway would be a replacement for the
car, not for shoe leather.
Bicycles require a degree of skill to use them safely, and are
difficult to use for errands in a city like Atlanta or San Francisco,
where there are hills.
A whole market for the segway just occurred to me -- junior high and
high school students. A lot of them get cars when they turn 16 because
they're too far from school to walk and aren't convenient to a bus
stop. Giving high school kids Segways instead of cars would save lives.
That's not a compelling argument at the $5000 price point, but would be
at $1000 or below. I don't know how young is too young to use a Segway
safely. There would need to be research on that.
On the question of whether Segways belong on the sidewalks or the
streets, it's not much of an issue now, as they've been relegated to a
niche market as a toy for the rich or a tool for a few jobs. While the
early adopters tool around, there's time to see what works before they
become widespread, if that ever happens.
You also missed a third alternative -- bicycle/jogging paths and lanes
are increasingly common, and widespread Segway use, if it ever comes,
would surely add a new impetus to that. Bicycle lanes and paths won't
get most users all the way from A to B, but a well-planned route will
only use streets or sidewalks when they aren't available. There are
plenty of Web sites that recommend bike routes, and the Segway could
pick up and build on those.
The problems I see with the Segway are: (1) cost. If they could sell
one for $1000, they'd be moving like hotcakes. They're like plasma TVs;
way cool, but most people can't justify the price. They need to get
enough of a critical mass of early adopters that economies of scale
kick in and the price comes down. That happens with a lot of new
technologies -- I've got a CD player in everything but the toaster and
two flat-panel monitors on my desk, and both of those technologies were
prohibitively expensive at first.
(2) Range. They figure the average range to be 11 miles on a full
battery charge. Yahoo maps tells me that my commute to work is 8.3
miles. So it would be a workable option for me on pleasant days -- *if*
I had a place to recharge it while at work. I'd bet a solar charger
would be a popular accessory, if it can generate enough juice from a
reasonable size. Any day when there's not enough sun to get a good
return from solar cells is a day when I'm not going to be riding it
The range is also a problem in selling it as a recreational device.
People who go out on bicycles or inline skates for fun tend to make a
day of it. If the Segway craps out in under an hour, that's a problem.
Optional additional batteries or swappable batteries would be a nice
touch. That way, if you misjudge the battery life and get stuck, an
emergency service could come out and swap them for you, or you can
carry a spare in a backpack. 83 lbs. of inert weight is a bit much to
get onto a subway or bus if it runs out of juice in mid-trip. If the
Segway becomes popular, I'm sure that sort of stuff will evolve.
I was about to post that the weight is a problem, but checking the
specs I see that it's about 83 lbs. That's light enough that the
average two people could get it into the trunk of a car or onto
something like a bike rack. The average person alone could do it with
the right hoist or ramp. It wouldn't take much of a ramp to lay it
across the back seat floorboards. It would take a more serious one to
get it into the trunk. Lighter would, of course, be better.
Above all, remember that the current Segway is a 1.0 release. It's
pretty safe to assume that battery capacity will increase with new
technologies without a fundamental redesign. Or fuel cells may replace
batteries as the power source. Miniature wind generators could offer a
little extra power to offset the battery drain of running into a
headwind. In a variation on the systems used in hybrid cars, gravity
could help recharge the batteries and extend the range when you're
heading downhill. Dean Kamen's record suggests that new technologies
will filter into the Segway as soon as they're ready for prime time.
As the machines are used in the field, engineers will figure out how to
make them safer, whether with things like proximity censors or
something as simple as adding padding to the parts that tend to hit
Grown men, he told himself, in flat contradiction of
centuries of accumulated evidence about the way grown
men behave, do not behave like this.
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