Segways were supposed to change the face of urban transportation. They haven’t. At least not yet. Now, more than eight years after they debuted, these personal scooters are still being innovated and still looking to make their big break into the hearts of the public. Segway is diversifying its portfolio. There are more available consumer models, more cool looking concept models, and more robotics applications than most people realize. The majority of these vehicles look awesome and a lot of fun to drive, but even the funny ones make you wonder about what Segway might accomplish in the years ahead. We’ve got seven videos of some of the best ideas to come out of Segway for you below. Watch them and you may find yourself becoming a believer, too.
Bigger, Faster, More Fun
When you design the transportation of the future, you have to find the sweet spot between the current options. The typical Segway scooter can travel over 10 mph which puts it somewhere between foot and bicycle traffic. That may not be the best spot for a personal transportation to aim at. Segway is developing higher speed (20+ mph) transports that could serve as a sort of light car. Better still, these new scooters come with room for two and a canopy so you can avoid the elements as you zip along. In collaboration with General Motors, Segway unveiled The Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility (PUMA) system last year. It’s pretty slick:
But if you want an even sleeker finish to your two-person scooter, you may want to check out the other GM/Segway project: the EN-V. This Electric-Networked Vehicle was debuted at the Shanghai motor show as a vision of urban transportation in 2030. Somewhere between a Jetson car and a PUMA, the EN-V isn’t for short-term release, but it shows you that Segway is taking a long view at where it might fit into the transportation food-chain.
Of course, my favorite Segway concept vehicle remains the Centaur. This four wheeled contraption can ride like an ATV except with better handling and hair-pinned turns. It also pops a wheelie like no body’s business and looks awesome to ride. The concept won a Coolest Invention of 2004 award from TIME magazine, but hasn’t made much news since. Too bad, this thing looks like it can really move:
You know who loves the Segway scooters? Cops. Police agencies all over the world have raved about the devices. They allow a single officer to patrol a much larger beat and respond to situations faster than on foot or even car. They also cut down on gas expenses, and let cops see over heads in a crowd.
This isn’t the only specialized demographic that Segway could pursue. Spanish designer Josep Mora built a concept wheelchair, without Segway’s help, a few years ago. While there are already many motorized wheelchairs and rovers on the market, Mora’s design was much more compact and agile:
Segway currently offers a variety of models, some of which are capable of handling rough terrain. Who wants to ride around in nature rather than walk? Golfers. In fact, Segway has a specialized scooter designed just for those looking to traverse the back 9. The x2 Golf has turf-friendly tires, a built in caddy, and can navigate terrain far off the cart pathways:
Look to a higher power
If the general public won’t turn the Segway into a mega-hit, and special demographic groups won’t make it a cult-classic, then there’s only one group left that could push sales into the millions: robots. Most people probably aren’t aware that Segway has been launching some impressive robotics mobility platforms over the last few years. Researchers don’t always have time to develop their own hardware, especially when they’d rather focus on the applications. That leaves a lot of space for Segway to become the goto base for robots wanting to make a beeline for production.
Segway already had a traditional scooter base attached to one of GM and NASA’s Robonauts for test runs on Earth. We’ve also seen how Marathon Robotics is using Segways to create autonomous robots for the next generation in army-training simulations. That’s just the beginning. There are specialized bases in development by Segway that look nothing like the traditional scooter, like this omni-wheel version:
The University of Delaware’s Dynamic Vision Lab is developing a way to map trails in the wild. Can you guess who made the wheeled base for their nature-loving robot? That’s right, while the instrumentation and upper portion are all from Delaware, the mobility is from Segway.
With four wheels the “warthog” may not resemble a traditional Segway scooter, but that’s my point. In the effort to innovate and find new applications, Segway has really moved outside the box that public perception has placed them in . There’s a lot of success to be had for a company that can adapt a basic technology into a myriad of situations and find the right formula for success in each.
Dean Kamen is a brilliant guy, so when he said the Segway was going to change the face of transportation people believed him. Eight years later, and he’s only sold around 50,000 scooters. Was Kamen crazy? Maybe he was just too focused on one vision. Segway is branching out in a lot of directions, searching for that market or markets that could fuel sales to meet its original expectations. While Segway may eventually find success as a personal scooter for the masses, there’s just as much chance it could find its big break in some other application. One thing’s for certain though, Segway hasn’t been resting on its heels waiting for the customers to just arrive on their own. It’s been actively finding ways to improve. With tenacity like that, their technology is bound to make a splash somehow. Even if only by inspiring others.