Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Summary: Rupert has issues with balance this week, with toppling Segways, unsettling billboards and a diet of Microsoft for breakfast and dinner

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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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.

Topic: Tech Industry

Rupert Goodwins

About Rupert Goodwins

Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.

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