Tech | June 24, 2020 11:37 am

Segway, Once the Future of Transportation, Is Ending Production

Was Dean Kamen’s invention overhyped or ahead of its time?

Segway inventor Dean Kamen demonstrates the futuristic scooter in December 2001
Segway inventor Dean Kamen demonstrates the futuristic scooter in December 2001.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Over the last five years, the personal transportation discussion has been dominated by problems like the “last mile” and finding a replacement for the inefficient, oversized automobile. But back in 2001, the world got an invention that solved these problems, and creator Dean Kamen described it as “to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.”

That invention was the Segway, the self-balancing personal transportation machine of the future. But as Fast Company reports, after almost 20 years of trying to live up to its initial promise, and become more than a novelty for tourists to ride on vacation, Segway is ending production.

“Manufacturing at the Bedford, New Hampshire, plant will stop July 15. A total of 21 employees will be laid off as a result, while 12 will stay on temporarily to handle various matters, including warranties and repairs on the Segways that have already been sold,” writes Fast Company. “Five employees working on Segway Discovery scooters will remain.”

Segway Discovery scooters, if you missed the memo on those, are basically just like every other electric scooter in the overstuffed market today. In other words, they’re nothing like the original Segway, which was far ahead of its time, making a splash before hoverboards, Lime and Onewheel were part of the mobility vernacular. 

So what happened? The Segway has always had some amount of dorkiness attached to its brand, and viral videos of people crashing prove the riding experience isn’t effortless, but one of its largest barriers to growth turned out to be that it was too durable. 

“I talk to customers riding [an old] unit. It doesn’t look good because it’s been on the road 12 years. It has 100,000 miles on it. But the machine itself runs very well,” Judy Cai, president of Segway, told Fast Company. “And so when you try to sell new units [to those customers] . . . unfortunately, it does hurt us.”

However, this isn’t the end of Segway as a company. China’s Ninebot acquired it in 2015 and will keep the New Hampshire facility open for now, with the potential to produce something maybe less futuristic, more practical in the coming years.

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