Baldwin Street is once again the world’s steepest

For the past year it had looked as if Dunedin’s famous Baldwin Street had lost the crown of being the world’s steepest street. According to Stuff, the Guinness World Records has changed its mind:

Dunedin’s Baldwin St has reclaimed the title of the world’s steepest street.

Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech, Wales took over the record in June last year. But on Wednesday, Guinness World Records reversed its decision, saying its measuring method was wrong.

Guinness World Records said on its website the decision to reinstate was reached after an “extensive review” of an appeal, brought by representatives of Baldwin St.

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“Yeah, na, yeah Bro – it’s pretty steep!” (Photo credit: HAMISH MCNEILLY/STUFF)

The key to the appeal was deciding the fairest way to measure the steepness of a street is along the road’s centreline, rather than an arbitrarily chosen steepest edge of the crown.

The Guardian explores the issue more deeply, with comments from both sides of the fence….or shall we say, road.

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Left: Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand. Right: Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech, Wales. (Photo credit: Composite: Pawel Toczynski/Getty Images and Gwyn Headley/Facebook)

The ‘Segway angle’ to this story is that Kevin Hey from Segway On Q was the first in the world to ride a first-generation Segway Personal Transport (PT) up the world’s steepest street in 2007. He made a video of it, which can be viewed on YouTube here.

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From The WayBack Machine this is from page of Segway On Queenstown’s 2008 website featuring a link to the video (today this business trades as Segway On Q).

Some years later Philip Bendall from Segway New Zealand followed suit on a second-generation Segway PT. And shortly after that, he claimed Auckland’s steepest – Liverpool Street – on a miniPRO (and knocked off a few volcanos as well).

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Dean Kamen’s inventions are fighting coronavirus [Updated 14 April 2020, including comment on NH broadening scope of personal transportation devices law]

Inventor of the Segway Personal Transporter (PT) and iBot stair-climbing mobility device, Dean Kamen, is directing his attention at fighting coronavirus. His company DEKA Research & Development already has inventions in production that will assist as shortages of sterile water and masks increase during coming months.

According to the New Hampshire Union Leader newspaper, Kamen has been in discussions with the federal Department of Health about using his Slingshot water purifier deliver sterile water critical for making IV solution.

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Above photo (c) Union Leader 2020 (see linked article for source)

Kamen says:

“If we can make significant quantities of sterile solution in distributed locations around the country and around the world, it can help with another shortage that could become more critical than the masks shortage,” he said. “We are doubling down right now on figuring out how to make that machine capable of delivering sterile water and IV solution as quickly as possible.”

 

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Named after the tool the biblical David used to deal with Goliath,DEKA’s “Slingshot” uses vapor compression distillation to purify water. Now federal health officials hope the device can help make sterile water for use in IV solutions during the coronavirus crisis.

 

You can read Segway NZ News’ previous articles about the Slingshot:

Dean Kamen’s Slingshot aims to hit fresh water bullseye

New Documentary about Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway PT

The Union Leader article goes on to say:

DEKA engineers also are sharing with federal health officials a promising new material for medical masks that doesn’t just block the virus. “We shipped samples of it to a lab that’s testing our material against live virus to see if it kills it,” Kamen said. “If it does, we’re trying to figure out how we can ramp up high volumes very quickly. We’re optimistic, but we don’t have any data yet.”

Kamen hopes the crisis will remind people of what’s really important “and that we should be investing in long-term solutions.”

Read the entire Union Leader article here.

UPDATE 14 April 2020

Dean Kamen doesn’t make idle claims, he follows through and delivers. This article New Hamshire buys millions of pieces of PPE for health care facilities by WCAX outlines how Dean Kamen leveraged his personal contacts and business experience to obtain and deliver much-needed PPE supplied for his home state of New Hampshire (the Union Leader story excerpted from and linked to above covers the early stage of this initiative):

Sununu credited businessman and Segway inventor Dean Kamen for spearheading the effort.

“We worked around the clock, scoured the earth and left no stone unturned to ensure New Hampshire has the resources it needs to combat this pandemic. Huge thanks to Dean Kamen for facilitating this effort. The state leveraged Dean’s expertise and connections on the ground in China, who helped us find a supplier and get these supplies in the air,” said Sununu, R-New Hampshire.

“Our state has not been receiving the PPE it needs and is running dangerously low on supplies. Thanks to Dean Kamen’s leadership, we are all a little safer today,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire.

Dean Kamen bases his R&D facilities and as much of his manufacturing as possible in his home state where he employs hundreds of staff, and of which he is a proud and supportive citizen. Equally, New Hampshire has been an enthusiastic supporter Kamen’s high-tech initiatives over the years, including being the first to pass a sensible and comprehensive law to embrace and accommodate self-balancing Segway PT-like Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices (EPAMDs) in 2002.

New Hampshire has also been prompt to update their EPAMD law as technologies and trends change. Most recently, they expanded it to encompass all personal electric transportation devices, as per the following changes (edited, view full text); original text in […], new text in bold italics:

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE

In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen

AN ACT relative to electric personal assistive mobility devices.

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:

1  Definition of Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Device.  Amend RSA 269:1 to read as follows:

269:1  Definition.  In this chapter, “electric personal assistive mobility device” or “EPAMD” shall mean a [self-balancing, 2 non-tandem-wheeled] self-propelled device, regardless of the number of wheels, designed to transport only one person, solely powered by an electric propulsion system, with a maximum speed of less than 20 miles per hour.

2 Operation Permitted on Sidewalks and Roadways.  Amend RSA 269:4 to read as follows:

269:4  Operation Permitted on Sidewalks and Roadways.

I. An operator of an EPAMD shall have the rights and duties of pedestrians prescribed in RSA 265:34-40.  

II.  When propelling an EPAMD upon a way at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time and place, the operator of an EPAMD shall remain on the right portion of the way as far as practicable except when it is unsafe to do so or when necessary to avoid hazardous conditions, including, but not limited to, fixed or moving objects, vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, animals, broken pavement, glass, sand, puddles, ice, or opening doors of parked vehicles.

3  Violation; Fines and Penalties.  RSA 269:9 is repealed and reenacted to read as follows:

269:9  Fines and Penalties.  Any person found in violation of this chapter shall be subject to a written warning for a first offense, a $5 fine for a second offense, and a $10 fine for a third and any subsequent offense.

4  Repeal.  The following are repealed.

I.  RSA 269:5, II, relative to the maximum speed of an EPAMD.

II.  RSA 269:8, relative to local regulation of EPAMDs.

5  Effective Date.  This act shall take effect January 1, 2019.

A couple of interesting points found in the above law include:

  • The maximum speed for devices is 20mph (or 32 km/h), which is a maximum speed for e-bikes found in many US jurisdictions.
  • Updated penalties for breaches are firstly a warning, then a $5 fine, then $10 fines thereafter.

The philosophical difference in the approach towards the quantum of fines is a very interesting point of difference between states and countries. For example, in Queensland, Australia the fines for breaching the rider rules for personal electric transportation devices are many hundred of dollars (these are broadly defined as “rideables” and included Segway PTs and similar devices, electric unicycles, e-scooters and mobility devices commonly used by impaired users). In France, e-scooter users are fined 135 Euros for any breach except speeding. Exceeding the permitted 25km/h is punishable by a fine of up to 1,500 Euro fine. That’s a big stick! Further, e-scooters can only be used on roads in cities (or on footpaths if permission is signposted, and then only at an unusable walking speed), while use is banned entirely on country roads.

About Segway ‘essential servicing’ during Covid shutdown (beginning 26 March 2020) [Updated 30 March]

[This article was updated below on 30 March 2020]

New Zealand has begun a 4+ week ‘Alert Level 4’ shutdown period where almost every person must remain at home, except for purposeful excursions to obtain food and medical requirements. Most businesses are now closed to the public. The government intention is to absolutely minimise person-to-person interactions, with the ultimate result being the eradication of coronavirus from New Zealand within a month.

Generally, Segway New Zealand will not be providing in-warranty or out-of-warranty repairs for Segway-Ninebot products, nor sending out new products or replacement parts until ‘Alert Level 3’ is resumed. Exceptions are outlined below.

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We will continue to offer advice and support via phone 0800 2 SEGWAY and email segwaynz@icloud.com

Under the essential service provider provision, Segway New Zealand may be permitted to provide Segway products, parts and services – if and as necessary – to:

  • mobility users for whom Segway products play an important role for personal capability or welfare. Examples: individuals who rely upon their Segway Personal Transport (PT) or PT-based self-balancing Powerchair (BodyElectric MAX or Omeo/Ogo Evolution device) for mobility around their property/farm, or for journeys such as gathering groceries, visiting medical services, etc. There are hundreds of individuals nationwide who rely upon Segway products for mobility. The rational is that an individual is safer to travel on a Segway product to fetch supplies compared with using public transport or taxis.
  • productivity users for whom Segway products play a useful role in the delivery of essential services. Examples: warehouse logistics, productivity and mobility while undertaking food producing activities such as farming, commercial growing, security patrols (enabling fewer guards to provide wider coverage), etc. There are dozens of business and individuals nationwide who rely upon Segway PTs for these purposes.

Fortunately, Segway products are proven to be extremely reliable. It is unlikely that any of the Segway PTs in active use during the Alert Level 4 period will require service.

But if you are a mobility or productivity user and your Segway PT requires spare parts, new battery packs, or technical service during this ‘shutdown’ period please contact us on 0800 2 SEGWAY or segwaynz@icloud.com.

We will assess requests on a case-by-case basis to ensure we are abiding the full extent of the  ‘Level 4’ restrictions. We can send parts out by courier, and could (probably be permitted to) arrange an off-site or on-site (but contact-less) repair service during this period, subject to safety protocols. Loaner units are available to mobility and productivity users if repairs cannot be carried out.

We also have Segway PTs configured for productivity, security and personal mobility roles available for hire or purchase to supplement or support mission critical operations at essential service worksites during this period. A more efficient workforce can produce the same output with fewer individuals, thereby reducing the likelihood of coronavirus spread.

Despite international freight having been disrupted, Segway New Zealand has plenty of  stock of most spare parts. Please note that stocks of replacement Lithium battery packs are limited. Once sold, stock is unlikely to be replenished for up to 8 weeks (however there will be hireable battery packs available).

As a registered equipment supplier to ACC and Accessable, we have received the following request that provides the basis on which we would provide support to mobility users deemed to require immediate support:

Dear Equipment Providers,

I am advising that Ministry of Health has confirmed that Accessable is an essential service provider.  We will be doing everything we can to ensure uninterrupted provision of our services and equipment.  We would be very grateful for your support and efforts to do the same.

Richard Parker (Procurement Manager), Accessable

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UPDATE 30 March 2020

Segway New Zealand has received formal confirmation as an essential service during Alert Level 4 for providing equipment and servicing to Ministry of Health, ACC and Accessable.

The scope of products and services we will supply or undertake is strictly limited, but we urge users of Segway products who require support at this time to contact us on 0800 2 SEGWAY  or segwaynz@icloud.com so we can assess your requirements and assist to the full extent permitted under Alert Level 4. Equipment services that are essential include the provision and repair of equipment in accordance with the principle of keeping people living at home safely.

Dear Segway New Zealand

We are writing to you to confirm that your business, as a vendor or sub-contractor to Accessable of equipment and services that also fall under the above definition of essential services will therefore need to continue operating during this national Alert Level 4 lock down.

It is your responsibility to understand what aspects of your business are deemed to be essential, and which are not, and act accordingly….Please use this letter as documentary evidence that the products or services that you provide to Accessable are an essential service….

As you support us to deliver our essential services, we need to comply with Government directives and ensure that our staff, stakeholders and clients all remain safe and well. To help achieve this, we have implemented the following procedures. You are required to implement and employ procedures that are aligned with these when undertaking any work for Accessable and our clients….

Graham Walling, Chief Executive

‘Esoterica’ from a long-gone magazine (2004) – first Segway HT on Auckland’s waterfront

In 2004 the Segway HT was featured in the ‘Esoterica’ pages of a leading New Zealand ‘tech’ magazine. While both the publication and its name have long faded from memory, here is a scan of that page, where the ‘Segway’ was pronounced “Wheely good”.

“Taking the Segway for a spin around Auckland’s waterfront…we did establish one thing, boy are they fun to ride.”

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The journalist who tested the Segway PT and interviewed Philip Bendall from Segway New Zealand for the article was Chris Keal, who is currently NZ Herald’s technology writer. He has written many articles about Sharing Scooters in New Zealand.

‘Esoterica’ notes that Philip could ride the Segway HT (for “Human Transporter” as it was known then, prior to being rechristened the “Personal Transporter” in 2006) up Auckland’s steep City Road (not to mention the even-steeper Liverpool Street that the S-Pro/mini-PRO can climb too).

“Run over somebody’s foot? No Problem. The Segway creates no more pressure than a toddler stamping on your shoe.”

Segway PT for moving cartons & pallets, transporting and ‘picking stock, more…

The Segway PT was designed to fulfil many roles better than existing solutions. One area was in ‘Enterprise and Logistics’ for moving people and cargo about more efficiently.

Cover more ground. Be more productive. Move more intelligently.

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Example of a Segway PT fitted with a solution to move cargo around in tight spaces

Here’s what Segway New Zealand’s Philip Bendall recalled in 2013:

“When I imported the first Segway ‘Human Transporters’ (today known as Personal Transporters) into New Zealand in 2003 they arrived in brown cardboard cartons emblazoned with the company’s original catchphrase – three sentences that very much embodied inventor Dean Kamen’s ultimate vision for his creation” – Philip Bendall.

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The first generation of Segway PTs offered the e167 model for this role. You can read more about the first generation models here. Second generation and SE models also offer a range of flexible solutions and the ability to customise to suit specific needs.

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In 2010 Philip Bendall designed a prototype “Segway Trolley” to move pallets of relatively large volume but low weight product from a warehouse and load them into trucks for distribution. Specifically, the product was loaves of bread manufactured by Goodman-Fielder. The challenge was to find a way to speed up the job compared with people pushing hand trolleys (150 year old technology). Forklifts (50 year old technology) were either too big or too slow to beat humans. Nor forklifts drive inside the trucks and also load them to full height, so a volume of space remained unused below the food of the truck. There had to be a better way.

The brief identified the key benefits of the self-balancing, zero-turn radius Segway PT:

“The desired outcomes are to maintain the flexible movement capabilities that are unique to the Segway PT (safe and intuitive operation, rapid acceleration, and ability to turn on-the-spot), while maintaining the [fundamental] ease-of-use of a simple hand trolley…”

The construction and operation of the ‘Segway Trolley’ prototype is described more fully in this Project Information Sheet from July 2010:

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The prototype was used by a start-up called “Mo-bot” that developed small, quick, zero-turn forklifts (initially built around a Segway PT PowerBase).

Around New Zealand many businesses have customised their ‘materials handling’ Segway PTs to carry everything from bolts of fabric between retail shops to university and hospital mail, from ‘picking’ medical supplies and automotive parts in factories, from on-set movie cameras to back-pack weed sprayers.

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New Plymouth District Council & TSB Community Trust adopt Segway-Ninebot KickScooters

The progressive province of Taranaki has been adopting Segway-Ninebot KickScooters in leaps and bounds.

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People getting about town on New Plymouth’s streets can rent Blip sharing scooters, which use KickScooters powered by Segway – the same model that has been used by Flamingo, Wave, Beam and Jump by Uber elsewhere in New Zealand.

Recently, staff at New Plymouth District Council were offered the ability to purchase a Ninebot by Segway KickScooter (ES2), a Legend e-Bike or Legend bicycle financed by the council, with repayments deducted from weekly pay packets over a period of time (say, 2 years). This scheme proved popular, and Segway New Zealand has delivered the first take-up of KickScooters under this scheme. Other organisations around the country are beginning to offer similar options to their staff as a way to encourage alternative transport options to and from work.

The TSB Community Trust quickly saw how useful the Segway-Ninebot KickScooter was for New Plymouth District Council staff, and purchased their own to use to get between meetings around town.

An e-scooter can make a multi-modal commute a viable alternative to a journey by car. For example: scoot the first mile to the bus stop, then take the bus, then scoot the last mile to work.

Long before the popularity of Segway-Ninebot KickScooters, Segway was the first company to establish a viable electric “last mile” option with the release of the pioneering Segway Personal Transporter (PT) range in 2003. The smaller p-Series (p133 model) was the lightweight, self-balancing device that showed a (then-unwilling) world how battery powered personal transportation devices could make sense in a world already built out for pedestrians and motor vehicles. The Segway PT had been carefully designed to be safe to use in both kinds of spaces. Today, full-size and mini-sized self-balancing devices are joined by e-scooters to make “the last mile dream” a reality for a rapidly increasing number of commuters throughout New Zealand.

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ACC reports injuries continue on downward trend, as Auckland Council study declares “E-scooter benefits outweigh injuries from use” [Updated 8 and 9 Feb 2019]

According to this article published in Stuff, a study conducted by Auckland Council has concluded that the benefits of e-scooter use on footpaths and roads very clearly outweigh the injuries from their use.

The report points out that all modes of transport entail risk and give rise to injuries (including walking), and the evidence they collected showed that e-scooters are a less injurious and costly form of transport compared with journeys taken in cars and on bicycles.

…with the data available, the council said e-scooter mobility benefits “appear to be larger than the social costs, relative to the total social cost of transport injury in Auckland”.

Earlier this year Segway NZ News published a story e-Scooter accidents fall 41% over 4 months despite rider numbers soaring.

Now, latest figures from ACC show this overall trend continues downwards, despite ever-increasing ride sharing and private e-scooter ownership.

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Chart by Segway NZ, using data from ACC (with Dec 2019 estimated – see also another report of this data, charted to Jan 2020, at the bottom of this article)

The chart above suggests the accident rate may also have seasonal variations. According to NZ Herald’s Chris Keal the majority of ACC-reported incidents are thought to be ride-sharing users, rather than private owners of e-scooters. This may be because private owners represent a group of users who are more skilful riders, are more risk-adverse, and operate mainly along regularly travelled commuting routes where risky portions of the journey are well-known so these risks can be self-managed. For obvious reasons e-scooter sharing users likely encounter novel environments on a far more regular basis.

The NZ Herald managed to entitle their article with the delightfully/shamefully misleading ACC e-scooter claims hit new high of $5.3m – so why is Government in slow lane? Yet this so-called new “high” is simply the sum of every prior month’s incidents added up together. A running total like this will always reach a “new high” with every passing month (because it can never go down).

The more interesting statistic is that November’s so-called “new high” is in fact the month with the third-lowest number of injuries from the preceding 13 months. This is despite the number of rides taken and number of e-scooters in use having increasing vastly during this same 13 month period.

December figures – still in the works – should show a drop. November 29 saw Auckland Council order Lime off Auckland streets after it failed to make the cut for the first official six-month e-scooter licensing period, which runs through to June 3. And it took until mid-January for newcomers Jump by Uber, Beam and Neuron to get their hardware on the city’s streets.

But now that they’ve arrived, ACC’s bill could spike. That’s because Auckland Council upped its cap on ride-share e-scooters from 1875 to 3200 as it introduced its first licence. That’s a problem because while more cycle lanes are being built, construction is still very much a work in progress…..We’ll get there. As commuters are keenly aware, a lot of new micro-mobility infrastructure is being but in place. And Cabinet will eventually stir into action and clean up the rules and we’ll see safer, more enjoyable scooting.

Stuff has since published an article sensationalising recent e-scooter accidents and dollar-total totals of ACC claims ($7m in 15 months). But buried at the very bottom of the article are the comparisons that shines perspective on the sensational headline:

  • Cycling injuries cost taxpayers just under $74.7m – more than 10 times more than e-scooters*
  • Skateboard and push scooter injuries also cost more, just over $16.1m and $11.3m respectively (collectively a total of 27.4m)

 * in addition to simply comparing the total costs, it would be interesting to know the number of commuting trips (between points A and B) being taken by cyclists vs e-scooter riders in cities where both modes of transport are common. Most e-scooter trips are for commuting rather than recreational purposes, but the cyclist total does not split out journeys conducted primarily for commuting versus sports and recreational use.

Elsewhere, Stuff’s article focuses heavily on two individuals who fell off and injured themselves. Both men freely admit to the foolhardy decisions that led directly to their accidents:

  • “Stewie” was riding drunk on a sharing scooter to get home after a night out on the town. He said he’d learnt from his experience, and in the future “…if I go drinking, I’ll be sticking with Uber.”
  • Matt Marshall is reported to have admitted: “I was in a knee brace at the time and hated not being able to drive [a car], so I turned to an e-scooter to get me around. I had been on one a couple of times with the brace before and was fine so I wasn’t worried.” Ironically, he fell off the sharing scooter while riding home from an appointment with a physiotherapist who was treating his knee injury.

The third example of an (albeit minor) injury quoted in the article was from a story written by a Stuff reporter who, on his first ride, lost control and scuffed a little skin off his arm (see My heart says yes to Lime scooters, despite my humiliating fall from one). The article implied the journalist exceeds the safe rider weight limit of the device he had hired, and admits he set off on his first ride with an over-confident mindset. The article closes with a simplistic and obvious list of ‘Safe Riding Tips’ that concludes by urging riders to have fun…

SAFE RIDING TIPS

– Share the space: Respect the people around you by allowing space when passing, and if on the road, follow the road rules.

– Wear a helmet: It should fit nice and snug, and have two fingers of space from your eyebrows. If you do fall off and have a serious knock to the body or head, see a doctor.

– Start off slow: If you’ve never ridden a scooter before, get a feel for it first and find your balance before you go racing off.

– Have fun: Most of all, enjoy being out and about, and trying something new.

An announcement from government is expected during February 2020 about micro-mobility, after being bumped (for the second time) in November 2019. Chris Keal again:

It was July last year when Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter – who has the safety brief – first said the Government would consult on an update to our laws around micro-mobility transport. Supposedly, before the end of 2019.

Approached again by the Herald this month, Genter said a discussion paper would go to Cabinet “soon”. It would be followed by public discussion.

This briefing is likely to encompass ways to regulate e-scooters of various sizes (perhaps by speeds/power output/weight/size/number of wheels, etc), as well as a wide range of other personal mobility solutions including: self-balancing personal transporters such as full-size Segway PTs and their seated configurations (e.g. the just-announced Segway S-Pod, and the Segway PT-based BodyElectric MAX and Omeo “power chairs”), smaller self-balancing devices such as Segway products (S-series/mini-series) – and their less-stable cousins we call “Hoverboards” – along with nimble one-wheeled Electric Unicycles, and a range of 3- and 4-wheeled personal mobility devices.

UPDATED: Another article in NZ Herald by Chris Keal (9 February 2019) presents data up to January 2020 (although it is unclear if this is for the full month).

Curiously, the data presented in the 9 February article varies in certain months with the data in the 28 January article (upon which Segway NZ’s above graph is compiled). For comparison, we present a graph below generated from the data reported 9 February, which continues to show a downward trend.

ACC accidents continue to fall Jan 2020

[Updated] Segway S-Pod revealed at CES (info, videos and more – including rare photos of P.U.M.A. prototype)

[UPDATED 11 January 2020, 27 February 2020, and 4 August 2020]

Segway has made headlines worldwide with the S-Pod, a new self-balancing seated transporter.

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Want to see how it goes? The best video footage of it being used by a reporter can be found at here at tech news site The Verge. Reports suggest the S-Pod may be launched next year (2021).

The Guardian has ranked the S-Pod at #3 in their list of Top 7 Standout Gadgets.

TIME Magazine rated the S-Pod at #5 in their Top 25 best-of list.

For other video coverage see here or Gizmodo’s less interesting video here accompanied by a good article that includes a description of what it is like to ride. Here are some edited excerpts from Gizmodo’s article:

Unlike the original Segway…there’s no leaning forward or backward—the S-Pod shifts your centre of gravity automatically for you. Climbing into the chair feels a little weird, sort of like falling into a moving recliner, but I never felt like I was in danger of toppling out. The thing is also slightly smaller in person than you’d think based on the pictures. Think of a slightly bigger gaming chair, complete with RGB lighting, that you can drive.

Learning to drive the S-Pod was quick. All it took was a 5-minute tutorial. Similar to many electric wheelchairs, you push the joystick forward to move forward and accelerate. You push back to brake or move in reverse. Turning left and right will spin you in a circle while pushing forward at an angle will help you turn….

….Even though Segway capped my demo S-Pod at 12km per hour, it felt like I was whizzing down the track at a semi-dangerous speed….Segway says that while the max speed will be 38 km/h…depend[ing] on local regulations and what they’re being used for.

While the S-Pod feels like it could be an accident waiting to happen….Segway told me the company thought long and hard about safety. For example, on turns, the S-Pod will automatically slow down so you don’t flip out of the chair….

…There’s also RGB lighting on the back that acts like a blinker, so people will know which way you’re turning. That’s because the target use-case is similar to the original Segway—things like tours and making it easier to traverse longer distances in public areas. (Note: the S-Pod, while probably helpful for folks who can’t walk for long periods of time, is still targeted at able-bodied folks and is not intended to be a replacement for wheelchairs.) All-in-all, I think most people would enjoy scooting around in one of these.

On 27 February 2020, Segway presented the S-Pod to Disney senior executives at their ‘Best of CES’ event. Here is a photo from Segway’s Facebook page:

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Segway presenting the S-Pod to Disney’s senior executives (27 February 2020)

 

The S-Pod is based on Segway’s P.U.M.A. (2009) here and its direct evolutionary descendents – three Segway EN-V series of prototypes (2010-11). See our earlier articles about EN-V here, here and here – that were developed in conjunction with General Motors.

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P.U.M.A. in New York at launch (2009)

Here are images of two of the three EN-V prototypes first shown at the Detroit Motor Show and the Worlds Fair in Shanghai circa 2010-2012. At the time, many press articles failed to understand the benefits of a two-wheeled, self-balancing platform for carrying seated occupant(s) versus small, traditional four wheeled vehicles. Yet the benefits of half the number of wheels and motors, plus simplified steering were quite obvious to engineers.

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Sometimes it takes a decade or more for the world to catch onto a really good idea. For example, see our articles:

Auckland in Fifty Years (or, Predicting the future: Part 1)

UniPod pre-dates UNI-CUB by 33 years (or, Predicting the Future: Part 2)

“In the future, we will all drive standing up” (David Byrne, Talking Heads) (or, Predicting the Future: Part 3)

We made further predictions in our 2011 article Segway PT and the next 10 years. Segway New Zealand’s prediction for 2020 is the boom in micro-mobility that is has been focused on KickScooters for the last two years will, three years from now, shift rapidly across to a focus on self-balancing transporters of a variety of sizes and configurations. As users look to replace their worn KickScooters many will seriously consider self-balancing alternatives because for a significant portion of users (perhaps even the majority) they are a better solution – they just don’t realise it yet.

Yet technological predictions remain subject Amara’s Law, which states that we overestimate the effect of many technologies in the short run but underestimate them in the long run. It is often easier to predict what may happen than when. This ‘law’ is touched upon in one of Segway NZ News’ most popular articles of all time: Justin Bieber really loves his Segway PTs – a tipping point in the evolution of attitudes towards Segway PTs. It includes a favourite image of actor Michael Douglas from Wall Street holding a “brick” cellular phone and asking “Wait you’re breaking up – WTF is an eye phone” that sums up just how quickly things can change. Yet the rise of the self-balancing machines is proving to take a little longer than Dean Kamen originally imagined.

The P.U.M.A. and EN-V were based on a platform where the platform that carries the rider(s) can slide across the PowerBase. This movement of mass in a forwards or backwards movement is equivalent to a standing rider upon a Segway PT leaning forwards or backwards to control speed.

EN-V platform.jpg

But “equivalence” does not mean it is exactly the same thing, and these two methods of generating locomotion result in important practical differences that are not necessarily obvious at first glance.

Below is a video that shows the two methods operating side by side. But first, an introduction from Stanley Innovation’s website (this is a US company that utilises, further develops and innovates custom implementations of Segway’s RMP Robotic Mobility Platforms). This introduction is about a prototype called the Segway MINI-PUMA.

advanced-mobility_2-2

MINI-PUMA

The next evolution in balancing technology.

Mini-PUMA was a prototype built to showcase the flexibility of the RMP architecture to add additional degrees of freedom quickly and easily. The code base for the Segway RMP is a refined version of the code that made the GM EN-V (PUMA) project possible. The ability for Mini-PUMA to transition from passive stability to active stability (balancing) allows for fully autonomous behavior not found in any other robotic system. The sliding degree of freedom found in both PUMA and Mini-PUMA provides a stable level platform during acceleration and deceleration.

This link is to a video from Stanley Innovation (57 seconds) that shows the Segway MINI-PUMA and a Segway RMP-200 model moving around together. It is immediately obvious that the MINI-PUMA can take off more quickly. It does not need to tilt to begin moving, and the platform can remain horizontal during movement.

Segway MINI-PUMA and RMP

TRACKING DOWN THE ORIGINAL PUMA

Segway New Zealand’s Philip Bendall got to see and sit in the original P.U.M.A. prototype while visiting Segway-Ninebot’s Beijing HQ during September 2019. Let’s compare the S-Pod with the P.U.M.A. starting with a photo of a line-up of several of Segway’s unusual products (the P.U.M.A. is on the right).

PUMA Bike RMP Patroller lineup.jpg
Left to right: Segway Robotic Mobility Platform (RMP); Segway SE-3 Patroller; Segway Electric Racing Bike (winner at TT-Zero 2011-13); P.U.M.A.

In addition to the two large wheels for self-balancing operation, the S-Pod has one “landing wheel” on the front for when it “kneels down” when the rider mounts/dismounts, and a pair of small wheels at the rear. The P.U.M.A. had a pair of small landing wheels at the front (these can be seen in the lineup photo above)…and also a pair of wheels at the back.

PUMA rear.jpg

Unlike the joystick-controlled S-Pod, the original P.U.M.A. had a steering wheel with buttons to transform from “kneeling” to self-balancing position.

PUMA steering wheel.jpg

This is a close-up of the P.U.M.A. wheel and gearbox (which does not appear to be a gearbox from a Segway PT).

PUMA gearbox.jpg

Here are instructions for use (in Chinese):

PUMA instructions.jpg

And finally the author looking very excited to be sitting in the original P.U.M.A.

PUMA Philip.jpg

For Philip, sitting in the P.U.M.A. and riding the Segway Centaur prototype rated right up there with being one of the first persons to fly the Martin Jet Pack in 2009.

philipjetpack11.jpg

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