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Impressions after riding a Segway HT: Part 1
From two hours of riding on a Segway, I found that it is remarkably stable, rugged, and versatile. It's not anything like a bicycle or scooter. It's closest to walking. It bodes well for active mechanics.
Over a two day period in early April 2002, I had the opportunity to use a Segway HT. It was during a conference attended by senior executives from various Fortune 1000 companies, the DiamondCluster Exchange. I was one of the dozen or so speakers, and Segway Senior VP of Marketing Gary Bridge was another. Gary brought along three Segways (also known as a "Ginger") and a couple of people to help him do demonstrations.
I made sure that I got to spend time on one of the units whenever I could. Over the two day period the Segways were available, I probably logged over 2 hours of use. This report covers what happened and what I learned from that experience.
Gary started his presentation about the HT and their marketing challenges by riding in on one (as you would expect). He delivered part of his presentation while standing or moving on it.
A slide from Gary Bridge's talk, Gary standing on a Segway HT with the reflectors on the wheels showing up from my flash (yes, his hands are in his pockets)
As part of getting acceptance for the Segway on sidewalks and other public places, they are working hard to introduce as many people as possible to the product. Their goal seems to be to get people to understand just a few basic ideas: The Segway stands up and keeps you up, it's fun and easy to use to get around, and it's benign and fits in amongst people. That's about it. Most people get a 1 minute personal introduction from an instructor ("Hold the handle, see how it stands on its own, remember that it tries to stay underneath you, lean forward to move forward, lean back to stop or go backwards, twist a handle grip to turn") followed by a 5-10 minute ride. On TV, you see a celebrity roll 10 feet. Very "cute". Not deep.
Most of the conference attendees and their spouses tried it. Even some of the hotel staff got a chance. Ages ran from 20's to 60's or so. Average seemed to be 50-somethings. Everybody enjoyed it as far as I could tell. Many would have bought one (or a pair) on the spot. (They aren't available for personal purchase yet, though.)
Demoing amongst the tables and people in the halls, and the obligatory tests of running over a foot (thanks to the wide tires, it feels like a person in running shoes stepping on your foot, not like a boot heel -- ouch but no scream)
I wanted to spend much more time. I wanted to answer some of those questions people ask ("What about bumps, curbs, etc.? Won't it hurt grandma?"). I wanted to see what it's like once you get used to it. I wanted to learn some of its limits. Luckily, Gary let me try to answer these. He was at the conference because I had invited him through a friend who helped me with my first Segway article. He would let me (and some potential customers in the audience) take much more time if we wanted. We did. He even set it on outdoor mode for us (a "red key" used to start it instead of the "yellow" or "black") and let us ride it in the parking lot at full speed (12 mph for this one). (Hoping this would happen, I brought my bike helmet that I used for that part.) A car driving by stopped, rolled down the window and yelled "How does that thing stay up? Does it have a gyro?" I yelled back, "Yeah six. Ask the guy down over there..." (Actually, it has five...)
Gary showing me how to use the Segway, the view from on top, someone else in the parking lot with their helmet going 12 mph
I tried using it indoors and out, on sidewalks, on carpets, going through doors, on gravel and dirt, up and down hills, and more. Not a full test, but enough to start. All the while, I kept thinking about a question Gary asked: How do you describe it to people? What could I say that I didn't learn from the articles I read? What did I want to know that you, my reader, might want to know?
Here are some pictures of using a Segway in ways that you may not have seen before. You don't have to get off to pick up things. It's stable enough that you can bend over and use both hands. It goes over bumps fine -- just bend your knees.
Non-traditional poses: Bending down to pick something up, going over a rock, standing still at the top of a ramp
Several of us got to try it on a small hill with gravel, ruts, and dirt. It worked pretty well, even for people who had just started using it a few minutes before. (On the right is Gordon Bell of Microsoft/DEC/VAX/PDP-11, etc.)
Riding on a slippery, bumpy hill, Gordon Bell at the top
Now read Part 2: What I learned for a description of what it felt like, and answers to questions such as "Isn't it just like a bicycle or scooter?", "What about sidewalk curbs?", and "Did you find any limits or problems?"
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