10 Futurist Predictions in the World of Transportation


The Segway

The name alone, Segway Human Transporter, implies this vehicle was burdened from the beginning by great expectations. "Human transporter" simply sounds too grandiose for its own good. A bit of background on its creator, notoriously quirky inventor Dean Kamen, confirms this suspicion. He's a physicist and researcher who holds more than 400 patents. (Kamen is also known for buying a small island off the New England coast, creating his own currency, and joking about seceding from the United States.)

The problem is, buyers haven't exactly come flocking to Kamen's door. The Segway simply isn't well-suited to the day-to-day needs of urban residents (and it's an even harder sell for the rural lifestyle).

The Segway, it must be said, is rather graceful in its movements. It zips along at a maximum speed of about 12 miles per hour (19.3 kilometers per hour), taking up only slightly more room than an upright, walking human, and a complex computer system keeps it (and the rider) balanced. A bunch of microprocessors calculate the rider's center of gravity to make sure it stays upright, and the handlebar-based turns are easy and intuitive.That's how hapless George Oscar Bluth (aka GOB) was constantly performing flamboyant Segway waltzes.

Perhaps the problem is this: It's not necessarily a good thing to move with so little effort. For all their computerized prowess, they still just look hazardous. It's the bane of many a lakefront visitor in downtown Chicago, where the tourism industry seems to depend on Segway rental revenue (and where it's just as easy to walk or take mass transportation).

So, where will the Segway's legacy lie? It couldn't even provide enough jokes for another season of "Arrested Development." Maybe the Segway really is a genius device that simply hasn't found its time or place. But for now, it's most commonly used for urban police patrols, college campus security and enabling large groups of clumsy tourists to terrorize innocent pedestrians in the most scenic areas of our nation's great cities.