David Brooks from Granite Geek reminds us that it is the tenth anniversary of the announcement of the Segway , the two-wheeled self-balancing scooter from New-Hampshire inventor extraordinaire Dean Kamen. It is unfortunate that when most people think of Kamen they think of the Segway, rather than his many medical inventions such as the iBOT mobility chair, the AutoSyringe, or advanced prosthetic limbs. Kamen is also the founder and major booster of the FIRST robotics competition , who refuses to grant interviews unless he is guaranteed the opportunity to talk about FIRST during the conversation.
I have an interesting personal connection to the Segway: my ex-wife St.Jon Clark was involved in the marketing side of the project, and as a result I was privy to information about the Segway for about a year prior to its launch. I remember the first time I got a chance to ride the Segway and was really amazed by its intutive nature. I also got the opportunity to visit Dean Kamen’s house one time and was amazed by the fact that he had a full machine shop in it so he could work on things any time he wanted.
When Steve Kemper’s book proposal for Code Name: Ginger somehow got leaked in January 2001, featuring some choice quotes from Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, the interest went into a full-out tizzy. A website got set up to speculate about “IT” as the Seqway got called by these speculators. I was amazed by the flights of fancy people went to - they thought it may have been an anti-gravity machine, for example. I remember thinking that some of these folks were going to be sorely disappointed when it actually launched.
I got a taste of stalking as a result of the speculation - St.Jon had purchased a bunch of domains around the Segway and Ginger. My chronology of the events is a little hazy, but because of the way she attempted to obscure the registrar, she ended up getting tracked down and my home address got posted on the speculation forms. I half-expected to see mysterious cars hanging outside my house, but none showed up.
By the time the Segway was actually announced, there was mass disappointment, and the Segway seemed destined to become a running gag for sitcoms rather than an effective transportation device. Ten years on, however, it is still in use, as it does provide a great service for people needing to travel farther than walking would be practical and less of a distance warranted by a car.