Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 29/09/2003 Segway stumbles. A recall by the company for safety reasons -- exactly what it doesn't need -- reveals that they've only sold around 6,000 of their electric shopping trolleys.

Monday 29/09/2003
Segway stumbles. A recall by the company for safety reasons -- exactly what it doesn't need -- reveals that they've only sold around 6,000 of their electric shopping trolleys. The golden era predicted by its fans when cities are designed around the idea seems further away than ever. The curse of the C5 still holds good.

By now, the Segway's farcical aspects are far more famous than anything positive about the device. We've all seen the videos of President Dubya trying and failing to stay upright on the thing, and the company's noted refusal to allow a Bond-style Segway chase sequence in Austin Powers must be the most short-sighted bit of brand management since a haircare company signed up Beckham just before he visited the barbers. People are having Segway races anyway, dressing the things up as chariots, building them out of Lego and generally treating the whole idea as a risible toy produced by a mad, misguided genius. See what I mean about the C5?

Perhaps the final word goes to Trevor Blackwell, a self-confessed Silicon Valley nerd, who has cobbled together a suspiciously functional clone www.tlb.org/scooter.html for a third the price and a tenth of the complexity. Controlled by a mere 200 lines of code and some off-the-shelf bits, this one man effort does nearly everything produced by the enormously expensive development behind the real thing.

Ah, says the true Segway fan, but can it climb kerbs? You may have seen the classic promotional video, where a Segway gingerly approaches the side of a road, sizes up the problem and then perkily pops over the barrier in a virtuoso show of computer controlled dynamic equilibrium. Blackwell is up to the challenge, as a video clip on his own site proves: he approaches a similar kerb, steps off, picks up his scooter, places it gently on the pavement, remounts the steed and whirrs away.  On balance, I think he's the winner.

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