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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

the self-balancing personal transporter crashes out !

The men's 200 metres at the 2015 World Championships in Athletics was held at the Beijing National Stadium in Aug 2015.  Usain Bolt won the ridiculous ease ~ and before proceeding can you think of some bizarre connection with that celebration with Kamal / KS Ravikumar film ‘Dasavatharam”.

The Segway is a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter manufactured by Segway Inc. It was invented by Dean Kamen and brought to market in 2001. HT is an initialism for "human transporter" and PT for "personal transporter".  Now (in June 2020) its present owner, Ninebot  has  announced that it would no longer make a two-wheeled, self-balancing product.  The Segway PT (referred to at the time as the Segway HT) was developed from the self-balancing iBOT wheelchair which was initially developed at University of Plymouth, in conjunction with BAE Systems and Sumitomo Precision Products. Segway's first patent was filed in 1994 and granted in 1997  followed by others.  

Segway announced today  that it is ending production of its signature self-balancing scooter, the Segway Personal Transporter (PT). Manufacturing at the company’s Bedford, New Hampshire, factory will end on July 15th, and 21 employees will be laid off.  Since the original Segway’s debut 20 years ago, the market has become saturated with electric-powered two-wheelers of many varieties. Moreover, Segway said the iconic and oft-ridiculed scooter only accounted for 1.5 percent of the company’s revenue. The  coronavirus pandemic and the resulting disruption in global manufacturing and supply chains were not factors, the company said.

                  When the product launched, the head of Segway said it “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” But almost immediately, those predictions gave way to ridicule. Time magazine named it one of the top 10 biggest tech failures of the decade, citing its inflated price point ($5,000 to $7,000) and its confusing classification as a road vehicle requiring licensing in some countries.

The Segway was a common sight at malls and airports, used by law enforcement or security guards. It was also often seen transporting herds of tourists around certain cities. But the company always struggled to find customers. Faced with dwindling revenue, Segway ended up being sold off twice to investors, once in 2009 and then again in 2013. The first, British investor, Jimi Heselden, died in an ironic, tragic Segway crash in 2010, and the second, Summit Strategic Investments, intended to ”refocus” Segway over several years, but that project was never completed.  In 2015, Segway was acquired by Ninebot, the Chinese rival that Segway previously accused of copying its signature scooter. Since then, the company has grown to become the predominant supplier of e-scooters to the burgeoning shared scooter industry.  But the Segway, which carries a standing passenger on a wide platform, accounted for less than 1.5% of the company’s revenue last year. The company said 21 employees will be laid off, another 12 employees will stay on for two months to a year and five will remain at the Bedford, New Hampshire, facility.

The transportation revolution that inventor Dean Kamen envisioned when he founded the company in 1999 never took off. The Segway’s original price tag   was a hurdle for many customers. It also was challenging to ride because the rider had to be balanced at a specific angle for the vehicle to move forward. If the rider’s weight shifted too much in any direction, it could easily spin out of control and throw the rider off. They were banned in some cities because users could easily lose control if they were not balanced properly.

                    Ten months after buying the company in 2009, British self-made millionaire Jimi Heselden died after the Segway he was riding careened off a 30ft cliff not far from his country estate at Thorp Arch, West Yorkshire. He was 62. In 2003, George W Bush avoided injury after tumbling off a Segway at his parents’ summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine. Then the video or cameraman on a Segway bringing down Usain Bolt went viral in 2015.

The Segway also served as a, quite literally, comedy vehicle in the 2009 Hollywood movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop. In the film, actor and comedian Kevin James played a security guard who patrolled a shopping mall on a Segway to much comic effect.  

To the Q at the start ! ~ the connection is accidental !  Song Tao,  working  for the host broadcaster CCTV, had covered many sporting events including the Asian Games and the Olympics.  But as the Jamaican was celebrating the victory lap, this cameraman covering the event on a Segway topped and pulled the athlete hard on to the ground.   Bolt took it rather lightly and in fact when they met next time exchanged pleasantries.

In the film Dasavatharam – in the bio-tech lab set in US, Kamal would use the two-wheeler self-balancing, battery powered electric vehicle moving inside the lab. This Segway could be spotted in many Hollywood films !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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