As New Personal Transports Arrive, Let's Acknowledge What the Segway Got Right

Sure, it's easy to mock the Segway as the tech equivalent of a fannypack. But the transport device paved the way for the current generation. Getty Images

Like so many inventors, the man behind Segway may have been just a little ahead of his time. If it weren't for the Segway and its creator Dean Kamen, there's no way Justin Bieber would be posting shots of himself on a self-balancing skateboard all over Instagram. Nor would we have headlines like “Wiz Khalifa Arrested for Refusing to Get Off Hoverboard.”

While the Segway got a bad rap early in its life (many thought it overpromised), its technologies have influenced a new breed of devices. Personal transports like the Hawk and Airwheel boards are gaining popularity, while the original Segway has sold more than 100,000 scooters since its debut in 2001. Tour groups and public safety officers still use Segway scooters to navigate sidewalks and parking lots, workers navigate vast warehouses on two gyro-stabilized wheels, and there's a purpose-built model for patrolling the vast expanses of military bases.

If we put on our 20/20 hindsight goggles, we can see that the Segway got a few things right:

      ·       Driving by feel: The technology that makes driving a Segway seem like mind-reading magic led to these hoverboards. Even on a Segway, the handle is for the rider's peace of mind, not for steering or balance.

      ·       Cooler commuting: The creators of the Segway and its self-balancing stepchildren all hope to see people commuting on their rechargeable, zero-emissions electric scooters rather than in greenhouse-gas-emitting cars.

      ·       Quick learning curve: If it weren't easy to learn how to ride a Segway in a minute or two, there's no way families would be hopping on these things and taking tours of ancient ruins. And if the new personal transports weren't as easy to learn as a Segway, there's no way some of their famous fans would have figured how to ride them.

       ·    Strong brand identity: You read the word Segway and instantly picture the two-wheeled wonder with its T-bar handle. The most popular hoverboard-style self-balancing skateboards are made by IO Hawk, PhunkeeDuck, Airwheel, EROVER, and others. You can even find them on some shopping sites with mouthful names like “New Smart Self Balancing Electric Skateboard Unicycle Scooter SkyWalk Blue.” Since this particular personal transport has two wheels, that very long name isn't even accurate. Score another one for Segway's snappy name.


Handier than you are rich? Instructables has you covered with this tutorial on building a self-balancing skateboard using an old board and an Arduino microcontroller.