Rocket-science scooter heads for the streets
By David Harrison, Transport Correspondent
BAE Systems, Britain's biggest defence supplier, is to lead a campaign to sell the revolutionary Segway single-person transporter to the Ministry of Defence and other Government departments.
The Segway scooter
The futuristic machine - a kind of electrically powered scooter that uses missile-guidance technology to maintain the rider's balance - will be launched in Britain this week and the target market is the armed forces, BAE executives told The Telegraph.
The defence company will sign an agreement with Segway, the American inventors, to market the transporter for military uses in Britain.
Executives will demonstrate the transporter to Army, Navy and Air Force officials and other VIPs at the Farnborough International Air show, which starts tomorrow. Segway hopes that contracts with Government departments will help sell the transporter to the general public.
BAE developed the Segway's technology and the machine was launched in America in December. It has already been bought by US Special Forces and fitted with tyres that enable troops to ride through woods and across beaches and deserts.
The US Army is also putting the Segway through trials at its bases, where it is being used to move troops and to patrol perimeter fences.
Dean Kamen, the Segway's inventor, said: "The special forces are thrilled with them. The transporters can carry the soldiers and their equipment which, these days, with surveillance, telecommunications and everything else, can weigh up to 100 lbs per man."
"It means the soldiers can move more quickly and more efficiently, saving valuable time and energy, " he said.
The Segway uses silicon gyroscope technology developed at BAE Systems' research centre in Plymouth for missiles and braking systems on cars.
The transporter is started using a circular "intelligent" ignition key and can reach speeds up to 12mph. The battery lasts for 17 miles before it needs overnight recharging.
The machine moves forward when riders lean forwards, backward when they lean backwards and stops when they return to the middle. It can turn around on the spot.
Computer technology and the gyroscopes maintain the rider's balance and allow the transporter to handle bumps and potholes.
In Britain, sales of the 80 lb machine will eventually be aimed at police, park wardens, and factories and warehouses where staff walk long distances. The Segway is already being used in trials by police patrols in Atlanta and other American cities, and by United States postal workers.
Others trying out the Segway, the patent of which is owned by Segway LLC, which produces the machines at a factory in Manchester, New Hampshire, include wardens at the Grand Canyon national park, security firms and companies with large plants.
The American postal service said preliminary tests showed that the Segway reduced stress and tiredness and helped staff to work more efficiently.
Sales of a lighter, 60 lb version will be aimed at British pedestrians. In America 30 states have recently overturned a law that bans motorised transport from pavements, to allow the Segway to be used.
Safety campaigners claim, however, that it will lead to "pavement rage" if the transporters bump into or "cut up" pedestrians.
Health experts also fear that the transporter will make people lazy, encouraging them to walk less and causing obesity. Nonetheless, Mr Kamen said he was optimistic of the pedestrian market. "We have never said the Segway is an exercise bike," he said.
"It's an alternative to the car that can reduce congestion in downtown areas. Walking is the one form of transport that has never been improved by technology, except for the the introduction of sneakers. The Segways are magic sneakers."
He said:"They are environmentally friendly and safe. People said cars weren't safe when they were invented. Who knows? Maybe one day the Segway might mean we no longer need cars in city centres."
A spokesman for the Environmental Transport Association, a London-based pressure group, said: "The Segway could be a good idea but machines are only as safe as the people who ride them. It could clearly be useful on military or industrial sites but for pedestrians it could end up as the latest executive toy."
The price could also be a deterrent: the larger Segway costs £5,700-£7,000, although the smaller version is expected to sell for less than £3,000.
David Squires, a spokesman for BAE Systems, said: "Our first objective is to market the Segway to the armed forces but there are many other potential markets in Britain and abroad."