I had the chance to try a Segway for the first time on Saturday. It was quite unsettling.
We were on a group of four: my partner and me, and two more people: a young teenage girl and her uncle. About a minute after we started, her uncle somehow lost control and bumped into her with his Segway. He fell to the floor, but she managed to keep the balance and stay put.
He stood up, got into his Segway again, and was told to go first, teenage girl after him, while we kept a respectable distance between them two, for our own safety.
That wasn't all: a little while after the first 'accident', the teenage girl somehow lost the balance when she went over a bit of irregular slope, and fell as well, but with the extremely bad luck that her leg ended under that diabolical machine.
Due to the way these vehicles work, we couldn't lift the machine to release her leg, because the Segway would try to compensate for that, and who knows what it would try to do with the wheels--maybe it would be even worse. And we didn't have the keys to turn it off... so we had to witness the pain of that little girl while help came from the "base station" with the keys, and try to to somehow help her relax and focus her attention away from the fact that her leg was under a big heavy thing that seemed to have a mind of its own and kept trying to balance and stay put while she screamed and cried. URGH!
Help arrived, the Segway was turned off and it was lifted away from her. She was really shocked and scared, but no bone was broken, just a bunch of bruises on her leg. Phew...
After this episode, I was a bit "eeeeh" and I wasn't even sure if we were going to continue with the tour, but we did. I went even slower than before: I didn't want to be another casualty! We completed the tour, and I felt such a relief after returning the Segway and being back on my feet and on stable ground.
And I have been thinking about it and I still can't find the point of the Segways.
Yes, it feels sort of magical and sci-fi, and if you told me such an invention would exist when I was six years old my eyes would have been wide open in wonder. But after trying it by myself, it felt like a massive overengineering exercise: putting a lot of effort, money and energy into building a big expensive gimmick that could be replaced with a more "lo-fi" approach: cheaper, safer, and incurring in lower maintenance costs (both economy and ecology wise).
I found keeping the balance on the Segway pretty unnatural and unsettling, even before the girl fell. On a bike, I can always step with my foot on the floor and regain balance, and if things are really bad I can push it away from me and fall sideways, but on the Segway I kept thinking of terrible scenarios: if I fell I would fall on top of it or on my face and break my teeth, or fall backwards and break my back or my head or my elbows or... As you can see, it didn't inspire me any confidence!
Also: the thing was incredibly slow. I could possibly have walked faster and be less stressed, and able to look at things and the scenery instead of being worried I'd fall if I lost balance for a second.
Finally, the last aspect that bothered me is how inefficient it was. They had made a few trips around the place before us, and the batteries were already pretty drained. The amount of energy it was expending in driving us very slowly was painful to my ecowarrior heart.
Even if they charged the batteries using renewable sources, it feels such a waste to spend so much energy on a platform that uses that energy to try to be stable but moves along very slowly. It is more efficient and less stressful to walk.
What's the use case?
It's hard for me to come up with as a valid use case for these machines. The only semi-acceptable use I can think of is security guards on big closed environments such as airports. All other cases look overengineered and dangerous to me, and could be replaced with "lo-fi" things such as cycles, electric bikes, skates, scooters, tricycles or just plain simple (can you believe it...?) walking, if you can. All these are stable and safe for both driver and surrounding environment.
I like trying things before I decide if they're for me. And I can now say I tried a Segway, and didn't like it. Give me a bike over a Segway anytime! 😜