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Simple moving with Segway

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SEAN BACHER decided it was time to give up walking for a while and look for an alternative means of transport. His search lead him to the Segway i2. An efficient and easy to use transporter, but with a high price-tag.

After reviewing cellular phones, notebooks and the like time and time again, it is very seldom that you find something completely revolutionary. Don’t get me wrong, the way the cellular phone has evolved from a simple instrument to talk on to a device capable of replacing your desktop is absolutely astounding. It has revolutionised our lives and I am 100% certain it will continue to do so for the next few years.

However, the other day I stumbled across a gadget that is revolutionary in its own right. Yes, there have been advancements to the basic design over the years, but the first model that was announced was something that had never been seen before ‚ and this was around ten years ago.

Many of you have seen them around, many of you have not. What I am talking about is the Segway Human Transporter. In this case, Segway’s latest ‚ the i2. It is a seemingly simple device, yet it has changed the way people commute ‚ especially in places such as Europe. It takes up a little more space than your own two feet, employs a motor instead of an engine and is able to efficiently and easily scoot you around from place to place. Perfect for taking a quick trip down to the shops to pick up a few groceries.

After speaking to a local importer, a time was set for me to come through for my first training lesson. At this point I was a bit sceptical as to what the unit was capable of, but quickly learned that this was merely precautionary ‚ after all, the Segway is capable of boosting you around at speed of up to 20kph and as a result if not handled correctly, it could very easily throw you off. Another reason for the lesson is that many people get on the Segway and attempt to control their own balance ‚ much like you would on a bicycle or skateboard.

However, the Segway does this for you ‚ in essence the Segway is controlling you and not the other way around. The idea of putting that much trust in a machine is a little disconcerting for most, but you quickly get used to it and learn that there are so many safety systems running at the same time and that the chances of you just falling over are slim to none.

So, with all that explained to me, it was time for me to hop aboard the Segway i2. Jonathan Cohen of Segway South Africa explained to me that once on the Segway the trick is to relax ‚ basically stand much like you would on the ground. The only problem here though, is that the ground doesn’t move when you are standing on it ‚ the Segway does. This he said is also something I needed to grasp ‚ the computer, coupled with the gyroscopes are constantly reading my every movement. So if for instance, I am leaning a little too far forward ‚ the Segway will move forward, the same if I am leaning back. The idea is to try and relax as much as possible and make small adjustments to your posture until you are standing dead-straight ‚ the result being that you won’t move at all.

This may sound a little daunting ‚ but after a few minutes I had it waxed and was ready to move. The rest of it is pretty straight forward ‚ your weight becomes your throttle as such. The further forward you lean, the faster you go. The quicker you want to stop ‚ the further you lean back. If you want to reverse – all you have to do is lean back, although Cohen did explain that you should never need to reverse as you can turn around really easily. All-in-all, a very easy skill to learn and master. Steering is done by tilting the handle-bars. Should you do this when you are stopped you will be able to turn 360 degrees in the Segway’s own footprint. In around 15 minutes, I was zooming around like it was second nature to me.

So how does it work?

According to Segway, the unit consists of an intelligent network of sensors, mechanical assemblies and control systems that balance and move you on two wheels. The second you step on to the Segway, you turn it on by activating the sensors under your feet. These sensors then activate the five micro-machined gyroscopes and two accelerometers that sense the changing terrain and your body position 100 times per second.

The Segway i2 is powered by two lithium-ion batteries that automatically charge when you ride downhill. Furthermore, the company says that you can commute 1.6km on a 15 minute charge. The company goes on to say that you will be able to travel up to 38km on a full charge and the maximum speed offered by the i2 is 20kph.

The Segway comes standard with two digital keys. Each set unique to that particular device. These keys allow you to change your speed settings ‚ there are three of these, and also let you know how far you have travelled. In my eyes, the keys perform a much higher purpose though ‚ the most important being that they alert you should there be something wrong with the unit. The key also allows you to lock the Segway and put it in alarm mode ‚ perfect for South Africa. Once in alarm mode, the Segway is basically inactive and should someone move it, an alert goes off on the key.

The Segeway i2 is designed to go anywhere you can go on foot which brings up the question of pavements and steps. No, it can’t climb up a step and yes, you can take it down a curb but this is not recommended as the unit takes quite a knock when it comes down.

Many people think this is merely an expensive gadget and whilst it is both of these, it also comes with its risks. Yes it runs on motors, but they are none the less rather powerful and should you decide to be careless ‚ you are guaranteed to come off second best.

If you don’t believe me, log onto www.youtube.com and search for Segway accidents. You will be amazed at what people can get up to. If that still doesn’t convince you, just ask George Bush ‚ he knows exactly how to fall of a Segway.

The Segway i2 comes with a price tag of around R70 000, (excluding VAT) a price that will get you a new scooter or even a decent second-hand car. However, Segway South Africa does have a rental program available to its customers. Furthermore, there is a rumour that the prices are set to drastically reduce in the near future.

Keep an eye out next month when we take a look at Segway’s off-road version ‚ the x2.

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