The original Segway held out the promise of reinventing transportation. It didn't, of course. But the product found its niches, including patrols, recreational tours, and warehouse fleets. More importantly, it drove fresh thinking around a class of green, portable wheeled devices that can be easily transported on a train or bus in order to solve the "last mile" problem.
The requirements for these "PETs" (personal electric transporters) have become relatively uniform: At least 10 to 15 miles per charge, foldable frames so they can be taken on public transportation, and a weight of under 30 pounds. There are several products that come in well under that spec, but they tend to be electric skateboards, minimalist scooters, or those electric unicycles that require a longer learning curve or exceptional sense of balance. At the other end, there are far more substantial PETs that are better tuned to the ergonomics of a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, their pricing is not, with products typically priced at above $1,000.
In any case, the design challenge has unleashed the creativity of mechanical engineers. A few months ago, I had the opportunity to try the Immotor Go standing scooter, which I stepped on with great trepidation despite it having the stability of two rear wheels. After a few halting attempts to ride it, I was comfortable enough after a few minutes to pilot it around Manhattan's midtown Bryant Park neither striking nor striking fear in my fellow New Yorkers.
Last week, I tried Stigo, a folding mini-e-bike-like device that has been sold in Europe for some time and is now coming into the US market. Despite my reluctance to give it a spin on the Snowballian premise of "two wheels bad" for the balance-challenged, company CEO Ardo Reinsalu assured me, "Everyone can ride it." And, indeed, within a minute, I was able to take a lap around part of Madison Square Park, a less crowded urban oasis about a mile south of where I tried the Immotor Go (and home to the first Shake Shack burger joint). Even at low speeds, riding the Stigo was so fun, it was hard to believe it was a practical device.
Part of what makes the Stigo is so easy to ride its short stance; this ensures that the rider has a low center of gravity and one's feet are never more than an inch or two from the ground. Despite its small size, though, the Stigo is very comfortable. The design allows for a relaxed arm position and the seat has been designed to accommodate longer commutes. Furthermore, the Stigo is one of the fastest devices to fold and unfold; the company's website touts its two-second transformation. It has two small inline skate-sized wheels that allow it to be dragged around when not being used.
Alas, as is the case with any of these kinds of devices, one will attract looks when riding the Stigo, although this should subside somewhat if these kinds of products can proliferate. Also, riding products like the Stigo are technically illegal to use on the streets of many American cities (including New York), although enforcement has been, at best, inconsistent.
Unlike many other PETs, the Stigo is not using a crowdfunding campaign to make its debut. The company recognizes the costs associated with promoting a crowdfunding campaign as well as those for shipping such a relatively heavy object globally. Speaking of which, it also has concerns about possibly attracting customers in geographies where it would not be able to service the product properly. That said, another seated PET, the Reflex, is currently making the rounds on Kickstarter. Designed by a team spanning the US and UK, the Reflex looks a bit more like the Urb-E than the Stigo. At the time of this writing, the Reflex had attracted $8,000 of its $20,000 goal with about 10 days to go.
One thing that really sets the Reflex apart, though, is its standard reward price, which is only $599. In contrast, the Stigo starts at $1,399. Like Immotor, the company offers the option of a second battery to extend range as well as connected options to track distance and locate the device should it become lost or stolen. Stigo's pricing is consistent with other products in its class; the Urb-E line ranges from $900 to $2,000, and the Immotor Go starts at $1,499.
At these prices, PETs are more expensive than a run-of-the-mill bike, but they're a fraction of the cost of a car or even a motorcycle. Unlike the historically industrial Segway or almost purely recreational "hoverboards", though, PETs are emerging as viable means of transportation. As cities striate urban roadways with bike lanes to alleviate maddening car traffic, they are paving the path to the future of personal transportation.
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