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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
How's the Segway scooter doing?
test hello test
By Ryan Dilley
BBC News Online
The Segway scooter enjoyed more than its fair share of pre-launch hype, but what's happened to this "revolutionary" invention since its unveiling? Well, it's claimed its first accident victim.
Some people expressed extreme disappointment when the much-anticipated secret invention from Dean Kamen (intriguingly codenamed Ginger or IT) was revealed to be... a scooter.

Dean Kamen on a Segway
Dean Kamen's invention may be a goldmine

Given Mr Kamen's engineering pedigree - he had won a prestigious National Medal of Technology - and the calibre of those endorsing IT (among them Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Apple's Steve Jobs), something "revolutionary" was expected.

"It won't beam you to Mars or turn lead into gold. So sue me," said Mr Kamen giving his stand-on human transporter its first public outing in 2001.

Though some users e-mailed BBC News Online admitting they had indeed been hoping for a Star Trek-style matter transporter, what's really not to like about the battery-powered Segway?

Smiley, happy scooter

After all, how many other modes of transport have a dashboard-mounted smiley face (the "universal means of human communication", according to Segway) to tell the driver everything's going okay?

However, it wasn't smiles on the corner of Cone Street and Luckie Street in Atlanta, Georgia, when the Segway claimed its first casualty on 2 May.

An employee of the city's Ambassador Force was sent tumbling from his Segway, when the 12mph two-wheeler (supposed to "anticipate" the every move of its rider) hit an "indentation in the sidewalk".

Segway scooters
Intuitive, but not infallible
The man was left nursing only a minor knee injury and was soon discharged from hospital. But has the incident prompted the Ambassador Force - whose main role is to assist visitors in Atlanta's downtown area - to regret its purchase of six scooters last month?

"We're very pleased with our Segways," Richard Orr of the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District told BBC News Online, blaming the pavement rather than the scooter for the incident.

"There's nothing like it on the market. It's an intuitive device which works extremely well. Our supervisors work an area of 200 square blocks and with the scooters they can cover more ground."

Driving lessons

In light of the accident, Segway says it is considering refinements to its two-day rider training course. But as the company's marketing director Tobe Cohen says: "Our feet are very intuitive, but sometimes we still trip up."

The Ambassadors are not the only Atlantans to be giving the Segway a try. The makers have loaned six scooters to the city's police department too.

Police at the Notting Hill Carnival
Segways help police get noticed
Mr Cohen says the Segway could be the perfect vehicle to take police officers out of their patrol cars and allow them to mingle with the public - without compromising their mobility.

"The scooters can carry 75lbs of police gear - about all they'd carry in a car. They also allow officers who would have been on foot to move faster and further. They arrive at incidents quickly without being winded, ready to devote their energies to their duties."

Standing on a Segway also puts officers a head-height above the crowd - where they can see and be seen.

People magnets

"These machines are magnetic," says Mr Cohen, "kids and adults are just drawn to them. This means officers aren't seen as being stand-offish and can interact with the community."

The Ambassador Force certainly attests to the Segway's "magnetic" qualities. "People are so inquisitive about the scooters. Our supervisors can't do their jobs because they get stopped so often," says Richard Orr.

With Segways about to hit the pavements of Washington DC in a trial conducted by the US Park Police, some residents of the capital fear the invention's arrival.

A New York cop
"...but there was nowhere to hang my doughnut"
Writing to the Washington Post, one reader said: "Smart technology or not, the Segways have no place on most sidewalks."

Ian Gilbert, while applauding the invention, said he feared seeing 300lbs of Segway and rider bearing down on him at 12mph as he walks. "I'm 59 and not as nimble as I was - which was never very nimble. I'm also blind in one eye, although you wouldn't know it to look at me."

Segway's Tobe Cohen says less-than-nimble pedestrians should not fear, the scooter is perfectly suited to sharing even busy pavements.

"People confuse top speed with normal speed. The manoeuvrability of this balancing machine means you can easily match your speed to that of those around you."

Mr Cohen is confident that any concerns about the safety of Segways or gripes about the pre-launch hype will evaporate as soon as people step aboard one.

Richard Orr of the Ambassador Force certainly seems convinced. "You must ride one," he says.

Some of your comments so far:

Yes, I have ridden one and they are fun. But, no, I do not want to share a pavement with them - for exactly the same reason as I don't want to have bicycles on the pavement. The comfortable riding speed of both bikes and Segways is considerably higher than normal walking speed, and both force pedestrians to move out of the way.
Pam Goldie, UK

Have you ridden on a Segway? Would you welcome them on a pavement near you or are they a menace to not-so-nimble pedestrians? Send your comments using the form below.

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See also:

19 Feb 02 | Business
Hyped scooter goes on sale
03 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
'IT' is finally unveiled
04 Dec 01 | UK
How to hype IT up
12 Jan 01 | UK
Will 'IT' change your life?
17 Jan 01 | UK
You've guessed IT ... maybe
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