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It was supposed to revolutionize urban transport. But five years after its public debut, the two-wheeled transporter from Segway is still finding its way through an obstacle course of slow sales and technological hangups. The latest bump in the road: On Thursday, the company announced a safety recall of all transporters sold to date because of a software glitch that could cause the wheels to suddenly change direction. This marks the second recall for Segway in just a few years; the first was in 2003.
The Segway was born amid tremendous hype in 2001 after Inside.com first reported on a mysterious transport device, based on a book proposal from Harvard Business Press. At the time, the device was known variously as “IT” and more commonly “Ginger,” and some backers went so far as to proclaim wholesale change might be needed in the way cities were laid out. Among the early enthusiasts for the prospective device were tech luminaries including Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and venture capitalist John Doerr.rn
rnSegway inventor Dean Kamen was forced to put this note on his Web site: “We have a promising project, but nothing of the earth-shattering nature that people are conjuring up.” Pictured here is one of the drawings from Kamen’s patent application.
Apple’s other co-founder, Steve Wozniak, can regularly be spotted playing Segway polo, a geeky new pastime that he and a handful of others are championing. But the Segway isn’t for everyone; in fact, it’s not for most people. Only about 23,500 have been sold since they became available to the public in March 2002.rnrn
rnPart of the problem could be the price, which ranges from about $4,000 to $5,500, depending on the model.
Helmets are also recommended for riders headed off to the back country, for which Segway designed its version of the dirt bike, the model x2.
For those who like their sports a little more on the sedate side, the Segway transporter can be configured to carry gear as bulky as a bag of golf clubs.
The ride got a little rough for President George W. Bush during a June 2003 test drive around the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
But the president couldn’t have been too discouraged by his tumble. In November 2005, he presented a Segway to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who seems quite at ease at the helm.
Segways have made some headway in specialized–or perhaps just publicity-savvy uses. Here, a version of the i2 for police is on duty at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.
Mostly, the Segway is a two-wheeled vehicle. But its maker also showed off a four-wheeled prototype called the Centaur.
To be sure, the Segway company must be hoping that eventually the road will rise up to meet it. For Josh Caldwell, seen here on a lonely stretch of Idaho desert, it provided the vehicle for a successful transcontinental trek in 2004.