Sunday, July 6, 2008

Segways on the March

When inventor Dean Kamen unveiled his world-changing "magic sneakers," better known as the Segway, this may not have been the image he had in mind. The photo above from China's official Xinhua news agency shows police in a July 2 anti-terrorism drill in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province.

Kamen, a National Medal of Technology winner for his inventive medical equipment, first revealed his heavily hyped secret personal-transportation gizmo (code named "Ginger") to some mild disappointment in December 2001. "It is not a hovercraft, a helicopter backpack or a teleportation pod," began a New York Times article at the time, capturing some of the overwrought speculation that Kamen had skillfully engineered over the proceeding months.

What followed was a perfect laboratory demonstration of Newtonian marketing theory: What is hyped must then be un-hyped. "It would be premature to call the most talked about scooter in the history of humankind a huge bust," Gary Rivlin wrote 15 months later, under a Wired magazine headline that seemed to say just the opposite. "Segway's Breakdown," the headline read. "Inventor Dean Kamen promised that his superscooter would change the world. Then reality hit -- hard."

Segways have not caught on at the pace Kamen originally envisioned, but they certainly have made headway over the past six and a half years. Walking around the National Mall or other sightseeing destinations here in Washington, D.C., one has to be alert for fast-moving squadrons of Segway-borne tourists. And Segway-riding police and security personnel are now common sights at airports, on college campuses and even in some downtowns. More than 750 police and security customers use them, according to the Segway corporate Web site. This promotional video explains the sales pitch....

The manufacturer also has long had its eye on military applications, including Segway-derived robots.

So perhaps the scene of a formation of Segways carrying machine-gun-toting Chinese security personnel was not such a shock to the Segway inventor after all. ("You build a car and it can either be used as an ambulance, or it can drive your troops around," Kamen told the Associated Press five years ago.)

But we're still a long way from a police-carrying jet pack. I'm holding out for one of those.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Kanye West, incidentally, only gave this the "whoah, crazy picture!" treatment:

VERDICT: You are a more thorough and complete futurist than Kanye West is.