Photography by Scott Martin
Chris Pesa is one of the first people to put the Segway Human Transporter (a.k.a. It, Ginger, and the Invention That Will Change the World) to a real-life test on his 390-stop mail route in Tampa, Florida. We caught up with him to see how it works.
Popular ScienceWhat was it like?
Chris PesaIt’s close to skiing or water-skiing-any activity where you lean into a turn. The turning control on the handlebar reminds me of a motorcycle throttle. If you hold it in one direction, left or right, you’ll spin in circles.
PSHow did Segway perform on your mail route?
CPPretty well. I work a park-and-loop route, where I park the truck and hoof it. I could take Segway down roads, through yards, and over inclines. It moves down hills smoothly, without picking up speed.
PSDid it cut your delivery time?
CPNot really-I was doing it in the same 6 hours. The main reason is that I couldn’t sort and ride at the same time. With more practice, I’m sure I’d shave time. Also, I started at 5 mph and moved to 8. We’ll see what happens at 17 mph. (Segway hasn’t allowed the postal service to try the 17-mph setting.) It let me carry more-it supports 325 pounds-so I went back to the truck seven times instead of 12.
PSHow would you improve Segway?
CPI’d like to see a wheel-locking device in case someone tried to steal it. And though the mail is protected from the rain, the postman isn’t. I can’t hold an umbrella, drive, and deliver mail.
PSShould every postal worker have one?
CPIt’s good for certain routes but maybe not for others. I’m not sure how it will work in the snow. (Segway will test snow tires soon.)
PSWill Segway change transportation forever, as some say it will?
CPMaybe. There’s really nothing like it. I do think it will come down to price, though. At $1,000, I’d buy one. (The consumer model, available late this year, is expected to cost $3,000.)
WE TAKE SEGWAY FOR A SPIN
Am I driving this thing or is it driving me? I’m not sure as I traverse a gravelly course on the Segway Human Transporter. Controlling it is Zen-like: You don’t have to balance, you don’t have to brake, you don’t even need to push a throttle. Instead, thanks to sensors, gyroscopes, and software, it senses subtle changes in posture. To go, you think about taking a step forward. It senses the shift in your center of gravity and tries to level itself by rolling forward. Dig your heels in, and it reverses to stop.
It’s not completely instinctive. Mistake the steering dial for a throttle and you’ll put Segway into a sharp turn (and flip it). Get tentative on hills and the thing will come to a dead stop. Fortunately, it has beginning, intermediate, and advanced modes. Within minutes I feel comfortable; in an hour, confident.
Will Segway revolutionize transportation? It’s easy to say no, to criticize its limited 17-mile range or healthy 25-inch width. But there’s no denying that its stability and agility surpass most people’s expectations. This thing’s in its infancy; betting against it now would be silly.