The US Postal Service loves it. US Special Forces are actively trialling it. Vice-president Dick Cheney has one on test and refuses to give it back. It's called the Segway Human Transporter (HT) and it's making its first appearance in Europe at Farnborough. It very possibly will be the most popular device on the airfield this week.

When announced in New York last December, the Segway caused a minor sensation. It looks unremarkable – a small platform mounted 20cm above the ground between two low-pressure tyres with a vertical column mounting a pair of handlebars. But lean forward and it can whiz along at up to 20km/h, around three times the pace of a fast-walking human. Lean back and it stops, then reverses.

Like anything that seems incredibly simple, the idea behind it is quite complex and took years to develop. The idea came from Dean Kamen, whose company's previous experience was in developing, then licensing, medical equipment such as home dialysis machines.



"Because we make medical equipment, we moved into helping disabled people and spent a long time trying to work out how to restore balance and walking ability," he said at the show yesterday. The result was IBOT, or Individual Balancing Optimised Transporter, which is being marketed and serviced by global medical supplies company Johnson & Johnson.

"We realised we could build a similar device for the able-bodied using the same technology," he adds. The HT was the result. Allowing the HT to detect the movements of its rider requires a sensor system. This takes the form of five solid-state silicon gyroscopes developed and provided by BAE Systems. The sensors, says BAE, are "relatively cheap and completely shock-resistant" but sophisticated enough to do their necessary calculations around 100 times a second.

Motive power comes from two electric motors (one a back-up) in each wheel, powered by a pair of nickel metal hydride batteries. These can propel the HT for up to 28km (17 miles) although in real-world conditions, the figure is more likely to be 17km.


Re-charging the battery takes four to six hours and costs about 10 cents. The batteries, Kamen believes, should realistically last for anything up to 1,000 charging cycles (typically three to five years in normal service). Cost of new batteries at present would be around $450.

So, where can you buy one? Sadly, you can't at the moment. "Within a week of announcing the HT, we had 59 million hits on our website," says Kamen "and we had to say ‘Sorry, we're not selling it yet.' We wanted to run trials with people like the US Postal Service (USPS)." The USPS seems convinced. According to Kamen, it is using them to deliver mail in Tampa, Florida, has ordered 40 more and will start using them in various locations later this year.

In the military field, US Special Operations troops have just completed a second round of trials and like HT's load-carrying abilities. Vice-president Dick Cheney was spotted by a photographer whizzing round the South Lawn of the White House on an HT and has recently been in touch with Segway asking for his ‘red key', which enables the machine to travel at its maximum speed (there are two lower speeds for beginners and intermediate-level users).

Kamen is cautious about estimating prices when the HT eventually becomes available for purchase and – initially at least – it will only be sold to "uniformed pedestrians", such as police and emergency medical staff, in the US. However, he thinks the purchase price would probably be $7,500 to $9,000, reducing to perhaps $4,500 to $6,000 after a year.

Source: Flight Daily News