Segway Goes to War

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The Segway, for those who remember the golden, glorious promise of those halcyon days of the 20th century, was meant to completely change our transportation grid and revolutionize human society by providing people with a new brand of souped-up motorscooter for those days when we didn't need to carry anything, the weather was perfectly pleasant, and we didn't mind standing up for the whole trip. Doubtless because of the sinister stranglehold of the auto industry, it failed to win many converts, selling only around 6,000 so far.

But now the U.S. government is stepping in to rescue this relic of the attempt to kill the demon auto, by adopting the Segway as a platform for developing battlefield robots, the Associated Press reports.

Genius inventor Dean Kamen, confused by actual human's rejection of his brilliant scheme, is thrilled: "My personal reason for liking (this program) is we would love to get more Segways at universities. The more we have our technology among the tech world, particularly the young geeks, it could only help us."

The groundwork Segway promises to lay for our future has changed from a Wellsian (in an upbeat mood) socialist utopia of clean, well-planned, and onerous personal transportation to a Terminator vision of relentless killing machines, but it's all the same to Kamen, as long as someone buys into his clouded vision.

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  1. But now the U.S. government is stepping in to rescue this relic of the attempt to kill the demon auto, by adopting the Segway as a platform for developing battlefield robots…

    Oh yeah? Really?

    What makes you think it’s a rescue effort? How do you know it isn’t a superior platform for a battlefield robot, especially when compared to prior efforts in robotics, such as the AlGore 2000?

  2. An inventor’s first attempt to market his product fails, so he tries another approach.

    Good for him.

  3. Franklyn Harris,

    Oh, I’ll never understand this if I live to be C!

  4. Comment: For all that feet and the subway is enough to get around Manhattan, the NYPD ride around on those damn things (they even say NYPD on em, how much extra was that?) on the sidewalk on 34th street, getting in the way of all the foot traffic.

    Questions:
    1) Can’t Kamen put a seat on the darn things and sell them to seniors? They’d be more stable than the rascle scooters. I’m sure Medicare would pick up the cost.

    2) Instead of using it in urban warfare, wouldn’t it work much better in space as a stabile platform to shoot bullets at the enemy? That way the government can waste even more money in manned space warfare and the segway combined!

    The guys a bigger genius than the fellow who sold those 100 hammers!

  5. I haven’t seen a lot of comment from anyone who’s actually ridden a Segway. I thought they were the stupidest thing in the world… until I rode one.

    I cannot explain the appeal of them, but I can’t deny that they have appeal. It really does feel like you’re controlling a motor vehicle telepathically.

    And if they weren’t obscenely expensive, I’d want one. When they reach the level of ‘consumer electronics’ rather than ‘the toy my rich boss brought into work’ I think they’ll become a lot more popular.

  6. … and isildur was consumed by the power of the Segway.

  7. I can’t believe all the segway boosters there are. Look folks, this isn’t a wonder, it isn’t even a new technology. It’s just a fucking electric cart! The only thing new about it is: they did away with the third (and forth) wheel, thus turning it into an inverted pendulum and adding hundreds of dollars of additional expense with almost zero additional value. As a commercial product the thing is just stupid! It will never? can never, be more than a novelty because you can get a much cheaper product that’s every bit as good.

  8. Sure, they’s fun, but in a crowded urban environment they are quite dangerous, especially for pedestrians. Weren’t they outlawed on the streets and sidewalks of New York City?

    Segways can substitute for very little of what we use cars for, regardless of the transit environment. They are a substitute for walking and biking, I suppose, but that’s about it. And do we really need substitutes for walking and biking? I know I don’t regardless of the price.

  9. Getting rid of the extra axle greatly reduces footprint and turning radius, which is a big deal for certain applications. And the gyroscopic (-scoptic?) suspension provides greatly enhanced stability. There will definately be applications that find these traits worthwhile – though the benefit for normal people compared to a Lark is probably negligable.

  10. A bit of a tangent…a couple of years ago (when the Segway was brand-spankin’) I saw cops riding them around the terminal of the ATL airport. This past week, on another visit to Atlanta, I saw cops riding around the terminal on mountain bikes. No more Segways.

    Does anyone know the story there?

  11. And do we really need substitutes for walking and biking?

    “Segway, Because Your Ass Isn’t Big Enough.”

  12. For rst and others who seem to think that a substitute for walking is a bad idea: I have hip and knee arthritis. Not bad enough to require wheel chairs or the like and I can walk fine around a store, if it has places I can sit down from time. But – and this is a big but – when walking, if I can’t sit, my hips begin to grind and walking becomes EXTREMELY painful. I’ve never used a Segway, but I sure would like to try.

  13. Put wider tires on it and you might be able to sell it to golf courses. Oh yeah, how about a seat, cup holder, cd player, roof…

  14. Is this guy related to the Kamen’s who make helicopters and Ovation guitars? Does anyone know?

  15. When will this be available from Sharper Image?

    😉

  16. “The more we have our technology among the tech world, particularly the young geeks, it could only help us.”

    And with so many kids playing the game, Soccer is sure to become popular in the United States.

    And with all those kids using Macs in the classroom the Mac will soon outsell the PC.

    And Ethanol will replace oil-based fuels.

    Oh, and don’t forget the metric system.

  17. Mr. Fletcher: no, Dean Kamen is unrelated to the Kaman Corporation that makes Ovation guitars and helicopter bits.

    See http://www.kaman.com, if you care.

  18. I love the Segway. It’s far more mobile and useful than riding a horse in the city.

    What’s that? Cars and bicycles? Don’t bother me with your fancy modern contraptions.

  19. I love the Segway. It’s far more mobile and useful than riding a horse in the city.

    Yes, and for the bargain price of a few thousand dollars, it’s slightly cheaper than a horse, too. Kamen made a significant piece of technology, commendable. That he could not make it affordable except for those with a few thousand in disposable income is the reason for humanity’s rejection of his toy. Now the government can buy them for millions per unit, because they’re the government and that’s what they do. Of course Kamen is thrilled. Now he can buy an election, too.

  20. I guess anyone who thinks such heretical thoughts about the glorious internal combustion engine can expect this level of pissiness here in the land of free minds.

  21. Exactly how is a Segway a better transportation option than my motorcycle? I don’t think I’d like to stand for the entire 106 miles of my round-trip commute.

  22. joe…straw man…yet again

  23. I for one, welcome our new Segway-riding robot overlords.

  24. I guess anyone who thinks such heretical thoughts about the glorious internal combustion engine can expect this level of pissiness here in the land of free minds.

    The Segway is not a substitute for an automobile, joe, it is a toy for the affluent.

  25. Affluent Marines, apparently. But you’re right; it’s no substitute for a car. The funny thing is, this is a great technology for a wide range of uses – mail carriers, warehouses, now the military. If it hadn’t been for the silly “revolutionize our cities” hype that Kamen put out for a year before unveiling the device, it would be celebrated for the technological wonder that it is.

    Oh well, the telephone was designed to help deaf people.

  26. Affluent Marines, apparently.

    Marines are not affluent. Their boss is, and by our money. The Marines do not need toys, they need urban warfare training and better armor and guns. The last thing they need is the PR nightmare of a haywire robot shooting up a busload of kids. “Hey, at least it’s environmentally friendly!”

  27. it would be celebrated for the technological wonder that it is.

    It’s not a wonder. It’s a gyroscope with wheels.

  28. OK, I give up. What the heck is a ‘strawman’? In my line of work, it appears to have an entirely different meaning — a preliminary, loose outline of an overall process, project or position– from the way it is used in Reason. Here, it seems to mean something like “I think what you said is stupid and I won’t bother to address it”.

    It seems a little incredible to me that the folks at Sandia or some such haven’t already developed a better platform than the Segway. Could there be more to the story?

  29. Oh, Steve and Franklin,

    I, like many other engineers and most scientists, use the metric system all the time. The US miltary uses it extensively as well. It is ridiculously easier to use, and I just don’t get why most Americans resist it.

  30. Roughly, offering up a target or adversarial point of view that deflects rationalization towards that item, i.e., Joe’s “thoughts about the glorious internal combustion engine,” while he and we know that (1) the internal combustion engine is not glorious and (2) the discussion isn’t about said device as the Segway isn’t a replacement for automobiles, regardless of Kamen’s intent.

  31. Mark A.

    Creating a “strawman” in the jargon of political dialogue is when you attribute something to your political opponent that is untrue (as a strawman is articially constructed) and easy to knock down (again, as a strawman is) instead of addressing the genuine concerns or arguments of your opponent. I first heard the term used to describe things Richard Nixon said, so it’s hardly novel to this website.

  32. “The automobile, for those who remember the golden, glorious promise of those halcyon days of the early 20th century, was meant to completely change our transportation grid and revolutionize human society by providing people with a new brand of souped-up carriage for those days when they didn’t mind getting stuck in the mud, or wanted to be subjected to loud noises and smoke, or wanted to waste money buying fuel, as opposed to the free grass enjoyed by horses everywhere. Doubtless because of the sinister stranglehold of the horse-and-buggy industry, it failed to win many converts. But now the U.S. government is stepping in to rescue this relic of the attempt to kill the horse by spending large amounts of federal money on paved roads.”

    The automobile is not a substitute for a horse, joe, it is a toy for the affluent.

    What is this? Reason or Auto Week? The Segway is far from perfect. I certainly wouldn’t want to ride one in the rain. And the stereo system leaves a lot to be desired. But for some urban dwellers, it might be more practical than a car. Who knows? The thing is a *brand new* invention. It took years, if not decades, for the automobile to be practical (and affordable) for the average person. But no. Let’s not be interested in possible uses for an interesting new invention. Let’s instead fixate on a 19th century technology that flourished thanks to government road subsidies and pretend it’s a grand symbol of the free market.

  33. So you see Mark, my comment was clearly a strawman, because the writers here never demonstrate prejudice against those who dissent from the primacy of automobile centric culture. For example, they’d never slag a promising new technology just because some of its supporters said unfriendly things about cars.

  34. How can Reason link to an article that uses offensive terms like “master-slave”?

    I live in Los Angeles County, and we do not tolerate such language, whether it refers to hard drives or electric scooters.

  35. Any form of transportation is only as valuable as the environment that is designed to support it.

    If you live and work in Manhattan, owning a car is pretty unnecessary. It’s nice to have for the few times a year when you get an urge to drive out to the country and can’t find a buddy who’ll do the honors in exchange for gas money, but especially during rush hour you can frequently walk 10 blocks faster than you can drive them, to say nothing of the subway. This has more than a little to do with the fact that the transportation grid of New York was designed a couple centuries before the automobile.

    In Los Angeles, on the other hand, a car is a vital necessity. The various components of the city are spread out and far flung, and in some of the more affluant burbs a single block can be half a mile or longer. Not unlike our first example, this has more than a little to do with the fact that the automobile grew up with the greater LA metro area.

    The Segway would be pretty revolutionary in any city designed to accomodate it. Pity it wasn’t invented 100 years ago when there was still enough land that developing new cities was a real possibility.

  36. How many times do you people need to be told? It’s the Grand Duchy of Merovingia. Sheesh!

  37. Fool, I don’t own a car. I don’t put the Segway up against a car, there’s no comparison. Apples and oranges. You’re hanging onto this Segway-car thing like it means something. If you’re mobile enough to stand on a Segway, then you’re mobile enough to walk, rollerblade, or bike your fat ass somewhere, hence, it’s a $5,000 toy. Might it help the mail carrier? Only if he’s got a burden that he can balance on the Segway (I presume you’re familiar with how gyroscopes work). And now the government wants to make robots out of the platform. We all know where this is going. They’ll pay $60k per unit, the project will go for about 3 years, suck millions, then disappear because something else will come along. I’m all for inventors and rich people wasting their money. I’m not for the government wasting mine on their sci-fi war toy fancies. They do enough of that already.

  38. My own two legs and a subway system are better for urban travel than a segway.

  39. “But no. Let’s not be interested in possible uses for an interesting new invention.”

    You’re right, the Segway is a kinda cool piece of machinery based on a really really cool technology. The machine may have some good uses, and the technology surely will have many great applications, and possibly change a lot of people’s lives. The problem is the Segway itself, as it was when introduced, was (other than being a proof of concept) just an expensive toy that in absolutely no way came even close to living up to the STUPID OBNOXIOUS hype that surrounded it. Most people had “What, that’s it?” in their minds before it was even unveiled. The technology may make the world better, but a scooter’s not gonna change the way we build cities. Kamen comes across as a little boy looking for attention and, to me, as incredibly shortsighted for trying to push the scooter as the end product.

  40. The segway as a robot platform? Snicker.

    It can’t operate very well ‘off road’. If we ever need to fight a battle on a clean level parking lot, I’m all for them!

    I thought robot armies were discredited by George Lucas in Star Wars! Doesn’t the Pentagon know anything?

  41. Rich – cities are still coming together. There was an article in National Geographic about a year ago on trends in high density urbs. Most shocking was Sao Paulo in Brazil.

    What’s really key in this story is that Mr Idealism, Dean Kamen, specifically because of his obnoxious Ginger-IT-Segway hype, really deserves to have his nose rubbed in the fact that he’s not just selling units to the US military here; he’s working with them to develop it for advanced weaponry. That’s the man-bites-dog aspect here. Make the world a better place, friend. Kamen’s got to sleep in the bed of ad hominems he’s provided the world.

    That said, I can surely see how the US military could use the technology to further their mission. I’d say they’re welcome to spend a million or so to figure it out. It was only a few years ago that the marines got a hold of a foldable paratroopers’ bicycle, and the improvement to unit effectiveness blew away the testing team, according to an article in Bicycling magazine. I wish I could find it to cite. But that’s with a $500 machine per man, not a $3000 device. But nevertheless, worth testing.

  42. Doesn’t the Pentagon know anything?

    Of course not, it’s comprised of armed forces members and civilians who couldn’t cut it in the armed forces. Government work is a safety job; the industrious and ingenious folk work in the private sector.

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