“In the future, we will drive standing up” (David Byrne, Talking Heads – 1984)

(or, Predicting the Future: Part 3)

 “In the future, we will drive standing up” – David Byrne (Talking Heads)

In the liner notes of Talking Heads’ 1984 album “Stop Making Sense” are a series of seemingly bizarre predictions about the future written by David Byrne.

The album, and the concert movie of the same name by Jonathan Demme, were very popular at the time – especially in America. So one might wonder if these words influenced certain young minds of a particular generation….maybe even the engineers who would go on to develope the Segway Personal Transporter?

Human history demonstrates how the march of discovery and invention results in ideas and concepts that once seemed meaningless or absurd go on to become not just a reality – but normality. And to do so in a surprisingly short time. Indeed, this was one of the things that Steve Wozniack alluded to in his public talk during visit to New Zealand earlier this year.

Twenty years ago the Segway PT was almost inconceivable. Ten years later it was revealed. And today the world is populated by some 100,000 self-balancing machines.

The majority of these are personal transporters, some are robots, and a few are cars. Ten years from now, self-balancing devices will be everywhere.

This is because the intrinsic benefits – combined with new enabling technologies – will generate compelling uses not just for certain existing applications but also for those not yet even imagined.

And so today – almost thirty years later – it is amusing to read David Byrne’s full list of predictions:

In the future, women will have breasts all over.
In the future, it will be a relief to find a place without culture.
In the future, plates of food will have names and titles.
In the future, we will drive standing up.
In the future, love will be taught on television and by listening to pop songs.

In addition to predictions about The Future, the group made predictions in 8 other categories (Tips For Performers, Life On Earth, Living With Other People, The Space People, Money, World Travel, Work, and Growing Up). You can find them all here.

Most Kiwis happy with Segway PT use on footpaths

An online poll conducted yesterday by the New Zealand Herald shows the majority of respondents are happy with the use of Segway Personal Transporters (PTs) on city footpaths. This is exactly what owners of Segway PTs have been doing here in Auckland since 2003.

Choosing between 4 options, a total of 54% selected the three answers for the status quo, where riders normally use Segway PTs on footpaths under the same rules as mobility scooters.

Twenty four percent consider Segway PTs to be exactly the same as mobility scooters, with a further 10% of the view that riders should keep to a restricted speed. And 20% percent chose the “Who called the fun police?” answer, suggesting a resistance to further encroachments on personal freedoms or disincentives that prevent people from embracing zero-emission personal transport or efficient business methods.

Only 46% thought Segway PTs should be classed as bicycles, which are not permitted on most footpaths in New Zealand. We explain below how Segway PTs are different to bicycles.

Segway New Zealand’s view is that the Segway PT meets the legal definition of a mobility device (a category that includes mobility scooters). The Segway PT was designed and constructed for mobility purpose,s and has a power output of 750 watts (which is under the legal maximum of 1,500 watts). Accordingly, we advise riders to operate their Segway PTs in accordance with rules for mobility devices: ride on the footpath (not the road) if a footpath is present, ride at a speed that is not hazardous to others, and always give way to pedestrians.

We also believe that the footpath is the most appropriate place for Segway PTs to be used under New Zealand conditions. Our population density is low and our footpaths are wide and in good condition, and easily accommodate people and traditional mobility scooters and small electric scooters. During the last decade Segway PTs have been determined safe and appropriate for use on footpaths and pedestrian spaces all US states, parts of Canada, and in just about all EU nations (Germany, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain, etc).

Segway PTs are very different from bicycles when moving through a pedestrian environment because they were designed to be different. They were designed from the ground up to be safe and appropriate for use around and amongst people. Unlike a bicycle, a person a Segway PT has a similar footprint to a walking person. A stationary Segway PT remains upright in one place, self-balancing at rest. Riders stand high, and have good sight lines. Stopping distance is much shorter than a bicycle, and the Segway turns on the spot (zero-radius turning). The top speed of a Segway PT is electronically limited to very much slower than a bicycle.

Segway PTs are much smaller and lighter than most mobility scooters, taking up less than a quarter of the space on the footpath. The Segway PT has a similar top speed to the faster scooters on sale in New Zealand, yet the Segway PT stops much more quickly. Because the Segway PT is small and light, it is easy for owners to take with them in their car. These are just come of the reasons more than 100 mobility impaired New Zealanders choose to use a Segway PT rather than a mobility scooter to get out and about and enjoy their lives.

Inside a Segway PT Gearbox (and all about servicing, elastomers, couplings)

Here is what the beautiful engineering found on the inside of a gearbox from a Segway Personal Transporter (PT) looks like.

Left: inside a Segway PT gearbox. Top Right: the two halves of a gearbox case, with the gearbox seal resting to the side for clarity. Bottom Right: close-up of the hexagonal input shaft, onto which the gearbox coupling is pressed.

The left photo above shows the side of the gearbox that faces the motor, with the helical gears and their bearings on display.

The gearboxes are manufactured at Segway, Inc.’s factory in Bedford, New Hampshire, where each gearbox is assembled, lubricated and sealed. It is designed to require no maintenance over the life of the Segway PT. During development this part was tested for thousands of miles under severe conditions.

Left: Segway motor and a gearbox from an i2/x2 model. The male drive hub on the end of the motor output shaft fits into the female coupling on the input shaft of the gearbox. Right: the other side of a gearbox – the wheel bolts onto the triangular flange attached to the gearbox output shaft.

Under New Zealand conditions, there are already a few first-generation Segway PTs that have travelled well over 30,000 kilometres and still running smooth and quiet on their original gearboxes. Such long life and durability is testament to the fine engineering that has been designed into these gearboxes. As another example, the Segway i2 Patroller deployed at The Base shopping mall in Hamilton by Waikato Security has travelled more than 15,000 km in 3 years, and its gearboxes are still quiet and silky smooth.

To put these distances into context, a private user who travels about 10km every day covers about 2,500km per year. Security guards at Universities, factories and shopping malls who patrol on Segway PTs around New Zealand often cover 20-30km per day. This is two to three times as far as an individual will tend to walk in a daily patrol role, so the productivity benefits of Segway PTs are readily apparent to business users.

We have noticed that the odd gearbox begins to get noisier from around the 10,000 km mark. These have typically been on Segway PTs that are operated in commercial environments where they are subjected to repeated, aggressive start/stop motion (such as Short Ride activities).

Left: Segway motor with drive hub and elastomer. Right: motor, new drive hub, new elastomer, plus a severely worn out elastomer shown for illustration purposes (elastomers should be replaced long before they look like this, otherwise couplings, motors and bearings will likely become worn or damaged).

The only serviceable “wear parts” associated with the gearbox are located outside of the sealed unit. There is an elastomer that absorbs shock loads between motor output and gearbox input, and these are typically checked every 2,000 to 3,000 kilometres – and replaced only if necessary. Often, increased noise from the gearbox area while riding will indicate inspection is needed. For the i2 model, tyres are often replaced around this time, so it can be efficient to inspect the gearboxes, seals and elastomers at the same time. Depending on how the PT model and how it is used and operated, elastomers can last from a couple of thousand to many thousands of kilometres.

Sometimes, the gearbox coupling that attaches to the gearbox input shaft can eventually wear and/or shift off-centre, and this causes the elastomer to wear out more quickly. If this happens, the rider will notice increased noise while riding and/or some “sloppiness” along with a different noise when rocking on the spot or turning left/right back and forth on the spot. It is essential that a worn or un-centred coupling is replaced promptly. Segway NZ has a special jig tool at our workshop that enables us to press a replacement coupling onto the gearbox output shaft.

Left: Segway gearbox with seal visible and coupling fitted, and for illustration purposes another coupling (on its side) plus two couplings standing on end (left). Right: close-up of two couplings standing on end – top coupling is normal while the bottom coupling has its hexagonal-shaped central shaft severely worn out.

In 2003, Segway, Inc’s website described the gearbox as follows:

“The Segway HT’s* gearbox, a joint effort between Axicon Technologies and Segway, is constructed more like a precision Swiss watch than a traditional gear drive from an automobile. A two-stage reduction system provides a 24:1 reduction, allowing the motor to operate at powerful, efficient speeds throughout the full range of speeds of the Segway HT. Each gear is cut to a helical profile, which creates a spiral engagement to minimize noise and increase the load capability of the gears. The number of teeth on each gear is chosen to produce noninteger gear ratios. This means that the teeth will mesh in a different location each revolution, maximizing the life of the gearbox. Our engineers were so obsessed with the details on the Segway HT that they designed the meshes in the gearbox to produce sound exactly two musical octaves apart–when the Segway HT moves, it makes music, not noise.”

The tuned gearbox of the Segway Personal Transporter.

* between 2001 and 2006 the Segway PT was known as the Segway HT – for Human Transporter – as the term ‘PT ‘was in owned by an automotive company in the US and thus unavailable for use by Segway, Inc.

Here is an article about Axicon Technologies developing quiet gears for Segway, Inc. that includes an interview with the founder. And here is more information on helical gears in general, at How Stuff Works.

Helical gears

Snow, Ski, Segway – all on the same mountain

Ski Resorts have been reinventing themselves as Summer Destinations, and the Segway Personal Transporter (PT) can be a real draw card for visitors all year round.

Take it to the top!

Public demand to take Segway Tours and enjoy Fun Rides just keeps on growing year by year. Ski Resorts are ideally placed to deploy a fleet of Segway PTs. Not only do they already have all of the infrastructure in place to manage these activities, their very location offers striking scenic attractions to explore. If your business is contemplating adding Segway activities view Segway, Inc.’s excellent short video (1:50) about this sector then be in touch with us at Segway New Zealand.

Business examples include Gunstock Mountain Resort (NH, USA) and Lake Crackenback Novatel Resort in the Snowy Mountains, Australia (reviewed in The Age here).

Segway x2 – in snow and on trail – at Lake Crackenjack, Australia

Here in New Zealand, Segway activities have operated at our two biggest “Ski Mecas” since 2006 – Taupo and Queenstown.

Located in the heart of the Volcanic Plateau and on the edge of New Zealand’s largest lake, Taupo’s extremes run from boiling mud to ice and snow. The mighty Waikato river begins with the thundering roar of Huka Falls, and some say Hobbits and Mount Doom can be found nearby. The North Island’s two largest ski fields are on Mount Ruapehu (Whakapapa and Turoa). Segway At Taupo offer Fun Rides and Lakeside Tours.

Queenstown is a extraordinarily beautiful location – and the adventure capital of New Zealand. Millions of visitors come to see and experience the sights and wonders, enjoy the awesome skiing and engage in wild activities. The town is especially popular with Australia skiers (as it boasts an international airport that receives direct flights from across the Tasman). Segway on Q offers Lakeside and Bay tours several times a day, and has just doubled the size of its Segway PT fleet to meet demand.

Based on demand over the previous two seasons both here and in the Northern Hemisphere, demand for Segway Tours and Fun Rides is showing no signs of abating. Rather, public interest and year-on-year growth is excellent. There are many great locations across New Zealand (and around the South Pacific) where business entrepreneurs can set up a Segway Activity – check them out then be in touch with us at Segway New Zealand.


Duplicate yourself with Double Robotics’ self-balancing iPad telepresence robot

Telepresence solution Double Robotics lets you be in two places at once (well, kinda)

Put wheels on your iPad with Double Robotics‘ new telepresence device. Duplicate yourself and roam by remote control – just about anywhere on the planet!

Telepresence has become a popular user of self-balancing platforms. The first was Anybot, and now Double Robotics has launched a solution called ‘Double’ that adopts the Apple iPad as the functional telepresence part.

You “drive” Double remotely by using your own iPad, while another iPad mounted on its telescopic pole projects your image as it moves about in another location. At US$1,995 plus iPads, it could be a cost-effective way to be in two places at once. In fact, you can have as many active Doubles as you want.

The Double Robotics website has a great video that shows how it works.

Dynamically self-balancing machines offer a number of advantages over traditional, statically balanced platforms. Benefits for telepresence include small footprint, zero-turning radius, and large wheels to keep the ride (and the video image) nice and smooth while making short work of bumps, jumps, door sills, cables, bits of rubbish, and all manner of objects found scattered around offices, showrooms and workshops. It is also the only practical configuration that enables a “tower on wheels” configuration to quickly accelerate or slow down without toppling over. For these reasons and more, Segway Inc.’s own Robotic Mobility Platforms (RMPs) have become the base for a wide ride of research, military and commercial unmanned applications.

Segway RMP 200, 200 ATV and 400 models (middle). Marathon Targets (left) and Firefighting Water Cannon (right)

The Segway PT kick-started interest in self-balancing platforms at Universities worldwide, including at our own Auckland, Massey and Victoria Universities. A variety of home-made inventions followed, and today you can even build a self-balancing model out of Lego Mindstorm parts. Of course, military applications abound, with Marathon Targets being the most talked about with their army of Segway RMP-based robot terrorists. And everyone knows the media likes to report the latest thing that’s a bit like a Segway – even if it isn’t.


Arrested Developement’s Michael Cera whoos girl on Segway PT

Here is a story that has become a surprisingly popular read all across the internet:

“It’s been six years since the formerly wealthy, habitually dysfunctional Bluths were on television.

And Arrested Development’s Michael Cera was spotted yesterday filming the heavily-anticipated fourth season of the canceled-too-soon cult series for Netflix. The Emmy-winning, critically-acclaimed sitcom was the first US tv series to regularly feature a Segway PT.

Yesterday Cera was seen riding his smarmy uncle’s recently repossessed Segway – still emblazoned with a ‘State Evidence’ sticker – as he attempted to gain the attention of a young pretty blonde wearing a blue tank top and a hot pink skirt.”

Michael Cera was seen as George Michael riding his smarmy Uncle Gob’s repossessed Segway as he attempted to gain the attention of a young pretty blonde

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