En español | The original Segway is riding off into the sunset.
The company that makes the iconic two-wheeled electric personal transporter announced this week that it will stop making the Segway PT. These days the vehicle is most often used by tourists for sightseeing and by police officers and security guards, but it also holds an unexpected place in pop culture.
Segway said its PT version is so durable that the market is oversaturated, with many 10-year-old models still rolling down the road. Once the company's signature vehicle, it now accounts for less than 1.5 percent of revenue. That pales in comparison to Segway's scooter business, for example.
Segway President Judy Cai said that while the coronavirus pandemic affected sales and production, it was not the ultimate factor in the verdict on the self-balancing Segway PT.
"We recognize that the decision may come as a disappointment to our strong and loyal following among private owners, who view the Segway as one of the more innovative creations of the early 21st century,” Cai said in a statement.
The ‘electric pedestrian'
Since its unveiling in 2001, the Segway has become, in some ways, iconic during the decades that followed.
"Some people thought it was cool, and some people thought it was nerdy,” says author Steve Kemper, who wrote a book about the machine's development, titled Code Name Ginger: The Story Behind Segway and Dean Kamen's Quest to Invent a New World.
The personal transporter was the brainchild of charismatic entrepreneur and inventor Kamen, who had already designed an innovative wheelchair using some of the technology he later applied to the Segway. The wheelchair could move and rise up on two wheels and balance, Kemper says. The Segway was code-named Ginger as the partner to the wheelchair, dubbed Fred Astaire for its mobility and ability to navigate obstacles like sand, rocks and curbs.
Kamen and his investors thought the Segway would change the way people move throughout the world, help those with mobility issues and contribute to making the environment cleaner.
"It was supposed to be an electric pedestrian,” Kemper notes. “He thought it would replace cars."
Instead it became more of a novelty, earning entries in the annals of pop culture when President George W. Bush was photographed tumbling from a Segway at his family's property in Kennebunkport, Maine, and when a cameraman riding one plowed into Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt during a victory lap at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Then, of course, there's the Segway's star turn in the 2009 comedic movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop, about a security guard who patrols the mall using the vehicle.
More tragically, British millionaire James Heselden, who acquired Segway Inc. in 2010, died a year later when the Segway he was riding went over a cliff.
The Segway played a prominent role as the main mode of transportation in the comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
'It really feels like riding a magic carpet'
Today many people mainly experience the Segway as they explore cities, and it's unlikely those tours are going to disappear anytime soon. Bonnie Vozar, 59, of Chicago, said she and her family have taken several Segway tours, including a memorable nighttime outing through Old Scottsdale, Arizona, to see the Christmas lights.
"It's great when you go to a new city. I don't want to be walking all the time as I age,” she says. “You can see a lot.”
In just an hour or two, a tourist can cover ground that would take a full day to explore on foot, Vozar points out. Segway tour guides typically provide basic training on how to ride the machines, which, she says, is easy to do: “You don't need balance or muscles.”
As he was writing the book, Kemper says, he often got caught up in the investors’ enthusiasm for the Segway.
"It is a cool machine,” he says. “It really feels like riding a magic carpet."