The Segway Personal Transportation System was supposed to be the way of the future. By the year 2015, everyone was going to have this easier way to get to and from places in an urban setting with an undeniably amazing system of self-balance. The Segway, more efficient than a car, and much quicker than walking, was planned to be the ideal mode of transportation within under a year of its release, yet became nothing more than a punchline for the joke of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”. The problem wasn’t technological, it was societal.
The first model was publicly unveiled in 2001 on Good Morning America with a price tag of $5,000. The founder of the company, Dean Kamen, expected the product to be bigger than the Internet, with his corporation hoping to reach $1 billion in sales faster than any other company in history. Users were initially impressed by its capabilities and actually had fun operating the device.
Much to his dismay, by 2007, only 30,000 units had been sold. (That’s 6 years!) Before its launch, the creator of the Segway never asked the question “Are people going to be allowed to use it?”. Cops had no idea whether to tell people to drive them on the streets or the sidewalks. They were dumbfounded. Kamen also never considered that customers would most likely be men, as it weighed 100 lbs, and most women would not be able to carry it up a flight of stairs, for example.
The Segway promoted a simpler way of transportation but also inadvertently promoted laziness. Meant to revolutionize how commuters traveled in cities, it required literally no physical effort. Bicycles, on the other hand, offered health benefits through exercise and were practical to park and store. Early users reported feeling lazy and out-of-shape after using the Segway. If you haven’t noticed already, people generally tend to look rather funny riding Segways, but that might just be me. If a product makes it’s target customers feel terrible about their body and look silly, they probably wouldn’t buy it, right? Segway Corporation learned this lesson the hard way.
In 2003, President George W. Bush was publicly photographed falling off a Segway while on vacation in Maine. Needless to say, the press ate it up. British journalist and television/radio personality Pierce Morgan also fell and broke three ribs in 2007. The later owner of the company, James Heselden, was killed in 2010 when he accidentally steered his Segway off a cliff, plummeting into a river. If that doesn’t hammer the final nail in the coffin, I don’t what does.
The technology of the Segway was way ahead of it’s time and the world simply wasn’t ready for all it had to offer. The U.S. government had no idea how to regulate this futuristic concept. The company over-hyped expectations and the Segway failed to deliver. The media and American culture became obsessed with the advanced idea and design before the highly secretive product was even released, unfortunately disappointing its biggest supporters. An estimated $100 million went into the research and development of the product, but the understandably high price tag drove people away and unfortunately limited the market of who it was intended for. When focusing on your product more than your market, you put the consumer on the back burner and profits first, a leading cause of failure of many start-up businesses. Segway ultimately failed to balance (pun intended) the invention itself and its practicality with the Average Joe.