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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 29, 2002

Here 'It' is: Segway to mobility

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Transportation Writer

Segway might not revolutionize transportation, but it sure draws a crowd.

State Sen. Cal Kawamoto, head of the Senate Transportation committee, takes rides the Segway "IT" commercial model demonstrated yesterday at the State Capitol.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The high-tech personal people mover once known as "IT" made its debut in Hawai'i yesterday, bringing people running and making children of grown legislators.

Sen. Cal Kawamoto wants one. So does Rep. Jim Rath. Developer Jeff Stone wants dozens to scatter around his Ko Olina resort.

"Just one more spin," Rath pleaded after doing several figure eights and loop-de-loops through the Capitol atrium while dozens of lawmakers and staff members waited their turn.

Developed amid high secrecy and much speculation by inventor Dean Kamen, the Segway Human Transporter turns out to be a one-person, gyroscope-stabilized, battery-powered scooter capable of speeds up to 12 mph. Riders stand upright over a single axle, holding a handlebar on the machine, which seems to go where you will it.

"Think forward," said Segway representative Matthew Dailida told first-timers over and over again. "Think backward. Think stop." And time after time the machine would go forward, backward and (this was the tricky one) stop to the surprised looks and nervous laughter of people who make laws for a living. A single handle is used for turning left or right.

"Pretty amazing," said Kawamoto, a former F-4 fighter pilot and head of the Senate Transportation committee who was the first to try Segway and quickly was racing around the atrium at the demonstration speed of 4 mph. "I got the hang of it in no time."

Although Segway's usefulness was questioned when it first came out, bystanders yesterday had no trouble thinking of Hawai'i applications.

A banking executive, at the Capitol for a committee hearing, envisioned one moving customers through his lobby. Kawamoto thought a Segway would be a great alternative to "walking the district" in election years.

Rep. Colleen Meyer envisioned hundreds of them being rented every day by tourists in Waikiki or Lahaina. Stone said they'd be great for elderly guests wandering the paved paths around his sprawling resort, or as a replacement for golf carts.

Is it a scooter, a robot or what?

The state House and Senate are considering bills that would classify the Segway as an "electric personal assistive mobility device" that could be operated legally on sidewalks at up to 8 mph by government employees, commercial operators and those with a mobility-related disability. Mail carriers are one frequently mentioned market.

The company also is pushing to include provisions for individual owner-operators in the legislation.

Dailida said the Segway is practically fall proof and designed to come to a quick halt when it encounters another person or object. Several times he encouraged an operator to drive (walk? ride?) the Segway over his bare hand without any apparent pain or injury.

The first commercial models of the Segway sell for about $8,000, but a 65-pound $3,000 consumer model is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

So was anybody ready to buy yesterday?

"I don't know, but it sure beats going to another committee hearing," Rep. Charles Djou said.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Senator Cal Kawamoto as head of the Senate Transportation department.