It took many years and many tens of millions of dollars to develop the Segway Personal Transporter (PT). A detailed account appears in the book Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind SEGWAY and Dean Kamen’s Quest To Invent a New World by Steve Kemper (available from Fishpond and Amazon, amongst others).
The book has been republished several times since 2003, each time with a new cover. One reprint is renamed ‘Reinventing the Wheel’ (not to be confused with TIME Magazine’s original 5 page feature about the development of the Segway PT also called Reinventing the Wheel).
Absent from the book are illustrations of the various early prototypes that are identified by code name only. The author does describe how they look, but there is nothing quite like a photograph to really show what these early attempts looked like.
Here is a banner that was displayed on the wall at SegFest 2004 (photo taken by Stuart Bloom, and sourced from this MSU page).
It all started with “Ginger” – a prototype powered by dot matrix printer motors. Apparently it relied on a large, military ‘inertial measurement unit’ to obtain pitch rate, with this feedback directed into an analogue control system to maintain Ginger’s self-balancing function (i.e. it did not use software).
The second prototype was “C0” (Concept #0), nicknamed Sybil for her multiple personalities and unpredictability. When she felt like it, she could use her belt-driven motors to propel a daring test rider to 32 km/h!
With “C1” (Concept #1) the basic overall shape, design and dimensions what would become the iconic, original Segway “Human Transporter” (HT) form was taking shape.
The company explored an alternative W-shaped handlebar with D1 (Design #1). An early attempt at “LeanSteer” was also explored around this time. LeanSteer was later perfected and incorporated into the renamed, second generation of “Personal Transporters” (PTs) at the end of 2006.
It was only with V1 (Validation #1) that all of the key features and components were combined into a single machine: full redundant sub-systems, iButton security key, smooth and quiet helical gears, and parts designed to be manufacture-ready and suitable for production line assembly.
The process cumulated in the original Segway Human Transporter (HT) range. As launch day approached the company had readied two platform sizes (Metro and Pro), three models and two possible battery options for each. For example, the Segway HT i-100 had NiCad battery packs, while the Segway HT i-167 had NiMH battery packs that offered 67% more range than the i-100 (hence the model designation i-167).
The complete Segway HT launch plan could be:
- Personal or p-Series: p-80 (NiCad) and p-133 (NiMH), built on the ‘Metro’ platform
- Industrial or i-Series: i-100 (NiCad) and i-167 (NiMH), built on the ‘Pro’ platform. One source claims the meaning of “i” was later revised to “International.”
- Expeditor or e-Series: e-100 (NiCad) and e-167 (NiMH), built on the ‘Pro’ platform and incorporating the unique ‘e-Stand’ feature in conjunction with the Upper and Lower Cargo Systems. Some sources suggest ‘e’ could also mean “Enterprise.”
However, by the time the company was ready to begin selling the Segway HT battery technology had advanced and costs had fallen to the point where all models would feature NiMH battery packs. The Ni-Cad powered p-80, i-100 and e-100 were never sold, although some of these were deployed during pre-launch trials and shown at technology demonstrations.
The e-Stand (electronic parking stand) enabled the e-167 model to self-balance in place – even once the rider had dismounted. To function, the e-Stand required the Lower Cargo System to be holding a minimum amount of cargo (which was one of several reasons why this feature was never incorporated into the i-167 or p-133 designs). It was anticipated the e-Stand feature combined with cargo capacity would prove a significant value proposition for certain customers (e.g. warehouses, mail delivery, certain public safety roles, etc). Security staff at Massey University in Palmerston North began using an e-167 in 2004, and found the e-Stand feature to be particularly useful on campus. The e-Stand feature was discontinued prior to the end of Gen 1 production, and has not been incorporated into any LeanSteer model.
The e-167’s Upper and Lower Cargo Systems could also be fitted to the i-167, the i-170 (2004’s facelift model in Midnight Blue colour scheme) and the i-180 (2005’s facelift models were available in Sport Red, Solar Yellow and Midnight Blue colour schemes, but to fit the cargo system required swapping off the colourful fenders for i-170 fenders). University of Canterbury began using two i-180’s with Upper and Lower Cargo Systems for mail delivery in 2005, and 11 years later in 2016 one of these units is still in daily use (the other unit was replaced with a Segway i2 model that was modified to use the outgoing i-180’s cargo system).
From 2005 Lithium battery packs were an option for the newly-launched Segway HT i-180 range, offering just over twice the range of NiMH packs . Lithium packs were standard on Segway GT (golf transporter) and Segway XT (cross-terrain) models. A free software upgrade for owners of i-167, e-167 and i-170 models was offered from 2007 that enabled the older models to use Lithium packs as well.
Lithium battery packs were never developed for the p-133 model, although they would have nullified the “range anxiety” objection that was one reason for the relatively low sales of this model (some sources suggest just 10% between 2003 and 2005). The planned p-150 model in Midnight Blue was scheduled for 15 July 2005 release, but this never eventuated. A ‘LeanSteer’ evolution of the p-Series platform was considered but never developed, leaving a gap in the market that would be exploited in years to come by several Chinese “copy-cat manufacturers” who released devices that infringed ‘Segway’ patents.
Last week the United States International Trade Commission confirmed in a press release they have instigated a new investigation into twelve companies. Segway, Inc. had requested in August for the USITC begin an investigation into patent infringement by Airwheel, Chic and various other brands under Section 337 of the Tariff Act. The list of companies being investigated also includes retailers such as Hovershop (California) and Powerboard (Arizona).
Segway, Inc.’s previous complaints under Section 337 have already achieved success, including a General Exclusion Order that empowers US Customs to prevent imports of self-balancing personal transporters into USA.
Consequently, most ‘hoverboards’ and copy-cat ripoffs of the Segway Personal Transporter have disappeared from US retail stores during the first half of 2016. Further, they are rapidly disappearing from sale in many EU member states, and from the New Zealand marketplace too (leaving owners of infringing brands of devices without recourse to parts and service).
Segway, Inc. first complained to the US ITC in September 2014 and named an initial list of infringers. In our follow-up article we wrote “Companies that could be added include Airwheel (S3) and Shenzhen Xingli, because they also produce almost identical copies” so it is of little surprise this has now come to pass.
Copy-cat manufacturers have long ripped off the design language pioneered by Segway’s engineers and designers. The following chart illustrates examples of the wholesale copying of Segway’s original external design ideas:
- the sexy swerve of the i2 and x2 LeanSteer Frame
- the positioning of Segway’s red ‘FlyGuy’ logo in a circular shape at the base of the LeanSteer Frame
- the lower Black half and Silver upper half of the LeanSteer Frame on off-road models
- the design and shape of the Fender Frames (lifting handles) and Fenders
- the forged, open two-pronged design of the i2 SE and x2 SE Stem, and twin-fastener attachment of the lower half of the SE LeanSteer Frame to the Stem
With its ‘Mars Rover’ S3 model, Airwheel aped the design language embodied in the Ninebot PTR model E. It was a textbook example of ripping off a sleek, beautiful and original design with cheaper materials in a near-identical style.
Ninebot is a sub-brand under the Segway Group, and no doubt the Ninebot designers are delighted to see Airwheel finally being taken to task for such blatant and outrageous copying of their creative ideas.
Segway, Inc. asserts that most – and very likely every – self-balancing personal transporter with one or more wheels infringes patents belonging to Segway, Inc. or DEKA Products. DEKA is Segway inventor Dean Kamen’s company and according to this April 2016 article and interview in the Wall Street Journal Kamen holds more than 400 patents. In its filings Segway, Inc. claims respondents have acted with knowledge or acted with wilful blindness when manufacturing infringing products.
In New Zealand, the earliest patents for self-balancing transporters were filed by DEKA in 1995. Philip Bendall and Segway New Zealand Limited have been advising the public about the patents that protect Segway products since 2003 via brochures, online, in published articles and interviews, during lectures to a wide range of audiences, and at hundreds of trade shows. Combined with the sensation that the iconic Segway Personal Transporter generated when it was first unveiled in 2001, our view is it is inconceivable that New Zealand importers and retailers could claim to be unaware the technologies that enable self-balancing devices would likely be protected by patents.
Airwheel, a maker of two-wheeled and one-wheeled self-balancing personal transporters, is facing trial by jury for patent infringement in a US Court, according to papers filed in June 2016.
Segway, Inc. is suing Airwheel’s US, EU, Turkish and Chinese divisions for wilful infringement of key patents on which the operation of the iconic Segway Personal Transporter (PT) are based. Airwheel products sold in New Zealand that are named in this lawsuit include at least all Mars Rover models (e.g. Airwheel S3 and Airwheel S5):
Also named in this lawsuit are electric unicycle models sold in New Zealand under the Airwheel X3, X8, Q1 and Q5 names:
Segway, Inc. has also sued Californian retail business Hovershop and Arizona retail business Powerboard – both sellers of a range of infringing products.
Other companies sued in this lawsuit include Chic Robot and Smart Balance Board – both brands of hoverboard that are sold by retailers in New Zealand.
Where this will leave owners of these brands of products in months to come is unknown, but previous legal action by Segway, Inc. has already sent some manufactures in China out of business, according to China’s Global Times newspaper. For example, the managing director of Shenzhen Jomo Tech Co says:
Our production line has been shut down mainly due to patent disputes…we have stopped exports of self-balancing vehicles to the US and Europe.
Shenzhen Jomo Tech Co appears to have now turned its manufacturing resources towards e-cigarettes and vaporisers, leaving owners of their discontinued self-balancing devices high and dry, without ready access to parts, service or support in countries like New Zealand.
Segway New Zealand Limited has repeatedly warned (here and here, for example) importers and resellers of infringing self-balancing devices they may face legal action in this country. By targeting businesses located in the European Union and Middle East in its lawsuits, Segway, Inc. has indicated it has begun to expand legal actions wider and deeper to protect its intellectual properties.
We’ve also advised the public that sales, parts and support for infringing brands may suddenly disappear, leaving their investment effectively worthless. Dozens of local owners of cheap, badly designed and poorly built copies of Segway PTs sold in New Zealand under brand names such as Chariot, Freego, Robstep/Robin, Windrunner, Leadway, Skywalker, Smart Balance Board and others have contacted us about the problems they’re encountering – but this is something we’re unable to help with, sorry. We’ll cover this topic in more detail in a future article, but remember our view is that any full-sized self-balancing device with a handlebar that lacks redundant sub-systems is intrinsically dangerous to ride. It is only a matter of when – not if – it fails while you’re riding it. This can happen without any warning at all – most likely when you’re riding under heavy load (e.g. at high speed, or going up or down a steep hill). The instant the device stops self-balancing is the instant the rider falls. Just stop and think about this for a moment….and what it means for your health and safety.
Only Segway Personal Transporters have full redundant sub-systems to maintain self-balancing capability in the event of a critical component failure. The rider retains control and steering so they can reduce speed and come to a safe stop, then dismount.
Segway New Zealand can service, repair and supply parts for every Segway PT model we’ve ever sold, all the way back to the very first Segway HT i-167 unit we sold in 2003.
Buckley Systems in cancer treatment breakthrough, doubles factory floor space (where Bill Buckley uses Segway PT)
NBR reports today that NZ’s Buckley Systems is one of three key players behind a technology breakthrough enabling Boron Neutron Capture Therapy (BNCT) to be deployed without the need for a nearby nuclear reactor. This will allow treatment centres to be built in many countries around the world.
Bill Buckley (company president) says treatment has a high rate of success for often incurable cancers, because the method is much more accurate so does minimal damage to healthy cells. Boron is injected into the body that attaches to cancer cells, then is bombarded with neutrons. Buckley’s electromagnets contribute to generating enough neutrons to make the method work without a nuclear reactor, something that has not previously been possible.
Buckley Systems is based in Mt Wellington, Auckland, and announced in July 2016 it is doubling factory space to meet demand for its precision electromagnets that go into the machines that manufacture almost all of the world’s silicon chips.
Our story Bill manages Buckley Systems’ multiple factory sites on a Segway x2 is a great example of how this super-smart, progressive local business identified the value of putting key staff onto Segway Personal Transporters – especially around larger worksites. This company is one of New Zealand’s technology success stories (see our stories Top Kiwi entrepreneurs and their Segway PTs and NZ Hi-Tech Awards 2013: three finalists…two own Segway PTs).
The Better NZ Trust – Leading the Charge is celebrating the first day of International Drive Electric Week with a convoy of Electric Vehicles (EVs) enjoying an excursion from Auckland to Puhoi. And there are more events every day this week around the country (check them out on this list), and throughout the world.
Drive Electric Week finishes with NZ’s largest-ever gathering of EVs at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) on Sunday 18 September. This event is open to the public and is the best opportunity yet to see every kind of EV vehicle you can buy in New Zealand.
Segway New Zealand will be at MOTAT to support of this great initiative that advances us towards our electric future. Come see our new Segway miniPRO – we like to call it “the EV that fits inside your EV.”
We’re yet to find an EV that can’t carry at least one Segway miniPRO. For example, one of our customers easily pops one of their three Segway miniPROs into the boot of their BMW i8.
So whether you travelled most of your journey in a traditional fuel-filled piston-powered horseless carriage, or a super-quiet super-efficient pure-electric or hybrid vehicle, once you’ve parked up it takes only a moment to lift out your Segway miniPRO and glide quickly and smoothy along that “last mile” – right to where you want to be.
Leading The Charge was an NZI Sustainable Business Awards Finalist for 2016:
Leading The Charge is a community of drivers, enthusiasts, and advocates who are helping to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles in New Zealand by sharing our knowledge and passion through public events and outreach, as well as strategic engagement with other stakeholders. We know that driving on clean, affordable, domestic electricity is more fun, convenient, and practical. That it improves air quality for families across New Zealand. That it supports both our local economy and the global environment. That it is, quite simply, better. Join us on this electrifying mission.
Here’s our earlier article featuring information about Leading The Charge, Chelsea Sexton and the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?”
NZ: Use this survey to share your views on future rules for Segway PTs, various kinds of Low-powered Electric Vehicles, and e-Bikes
The New Zealand Transport Agency would like to know your views on how Low-powered Electric Vehicles, mobility devices and e-bikes should be regulated in the future. If you presently use or even if you think you’d like to use a Segway Personal Transporter or Segway miniPRO in the future please take a few minutes to complete this survey. What you think is important.
This survey seeks to gather views on:
- e-bikes (power-assisted bicycles) and Yike Bike-type cycles
- mobility scooters and powerchairs
- self-balancing devices of various kinds, such as the Segway Personal Transporter and Segway miniPRO, and also ‘hoverboards’ and electric unicycles
- other low-powered devices, such as e-skateboards and electric ‘kick scooters’
As you progress through the survey you can choose to respond to questions about just some or to all of these types of vehicle – it is up to you.
The survey closes in a couple of days, so right now is a great time to contribute your views and share the value of your own personal experiences.
Queenstown newspaper Mountain Scene has covered the story of how Kevin and Jo Hey launched Segway On Q ten years ago, and have just moved their operation into a high street shop in the centre of town. This is a good write-up about how this couple have built a thriving business with enthusiasm and hard work.
With Segway On Q visitors to Queenstown can see the sights of the lakefront, Botanic Gardens and more by taking either a one-hour or two-hour guided tour.
We also covered the move in our July story here.