Stand up and be counted

The Segway PT is being used by police forces, manufacturers, distributors, airports, shopping centres and tourism operators.

December 14, 2011
by Kara Kuryllowicz

Purchasingb2b October 2011 print edition: Fleet Management

Effortlessly rolling along at a maximum speed of 20kmh on your Segway Personal Transporter, every step that you don’t take is a reminder of how much energy and effort you save while your boss happily focuses on productivity and efficiency gains.

Available nationwide through Segway Canada since the summer of 2008, the Segway PT is being used by police forces, manufacturers, distributors, airports, shopping centres and tourism operators, because the device allows users to cover greater distances while expending virtually no energy. Retailing at about $6,400, there are approximately 1,000 Segways in Canada, with about 60 percent deployed as tools in a variety of workplaces. Because each province has jurisdiction over where devices such as the Segway can be used, organizations need to investigate local laws before committing to the product.

“Our two Segway Patrollers are valuable as a transportation and public relations tool, because we cover more ground with far less physical fatigue and people want to know more about them so they’re a great conversation starter,” says Constable Terry Stanley, community service and media relations with the Cobourg Police Service. Stanley is one of two officers to regularly ride a Segway Patroller on hiking trails, beaches, sidewalks and shopping malls, since the force purchased the units four years ago.

In 2001, renowned inventor Dean Kamen unveiled the Segway Personal Transporter, the first self-balancing, battery-powered transportation device that uses dynamic stabilization technology to keep the rider and the PT perpendicular to the ground whether or not they’re on an incline. The LeanSteer system also makes operating a Segway remarkably intuitive because it senses and interprets, then mirrors the rider’s movements. Shift weight to the left or right to turn and forward or backward to accelerate or slow down. Rapid movement will produce a response in kind from the Segway, while a gradual shift will result in a slower turn or change in speed.

“On morning rounds, management and maintenance can do the 2.7km perimeter circuit of our mall in much less than the hour and a half it would take to do it on foot. As importantly, with the Segway, employees look forward to going out and checking everything from mall furniture to washrooms,” says Ross McAlpine, operations manager at the Cross Iron Mills mall about 10 minutes north of Calgary. “Shoppers always ask about them and if the mall’s not too busy, I let them give it a try because the Segway is so easy to operate.”

Easy to learn
McAlpine, Constable Stanley and others found it incredibly easy to learn to ride a Segway PT, achieving a real comfort level in just five to
10 minutes, although they did find their skill level improved with practice and time. Segway Canada recommends up to two hours of training for commercial users and at least 30 minutes for the average consumer.

On all Segway models, the rider is about 25cm off the ground, which gives them a unique perspective and makes them more visible in most crowds. Because they are so quiet, McAlpine keeps them off the mall floor during busy periods as they can startle pedestrians. For safety’s sake, riders should likely travel at less than the maximum speed of 20kmh in congested areas or where there may be blind spots and intersections, such as in a warehouse.

While the Segway moves most easily along smooth surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete or hard-packed earth, it can handle grass, snow and even sand if you let a little air out of the tires first. It also rolls well and easily up and down hills and can easily negotiate stairs and large curbs, when the exclusive Rider-less Balance Mode feature uses powerful servomotors to move itself up and down obstacles. The operator simply needs to guide the PT in the desired direction and the Segway will do all the heavy lifting.

“The Segway is very sensitive and responsive—it can stop, start and turn on a dime, which makes it easy to maneuver it through a crowd,” says Stanley, who also finds it fairly easy to assist the 54.4kg unit up stairs.

Segway tailored its Patroller models to municipalities, airports, military bases, private security firms and emergency response brigades by installing integrated lighting systems, a heavy-duty bumper, more space for insignia and logos as well as additional stowage space and more durable components. Thanks to the heavier bumper, a riderless unit can rest more securely against a wall, a railing or seats, which saves time by eliminating the need to set up the kickstand—a bonus in an emergency situation.

The X2 and i2 Patroller(s), both of which have a maximum speed of 20kmh, respectively weigh 54.4kg and 47.7kg with a range of 19 and 38km each. The X2 is 85cm wide and the i2 is just 63.5cm wide. The range and duration of the charge will be affected by the weight carried (rider and baggage) as well as the amount of uphill terrain travelled, which requires more energy.

All Segways have a built-in anti-theft device to discourage anyone who tampers with it when parked. Try to move it without the Info Key controller—which is programmed to start and lock a specific Segway PT—and an alarm will sound. The Segway will then vibrate, the wheels will lock and a visual alert will be sent to the Info Key controller. The Info Key also provides real-time information on battery life, speed and system performance.

The Segway is not considered a medical device, like a scooter or a motorized wheelchair, but they can provide far greater mobility to people such as Guy Lacerte, who can stand for longer than he can walk due to an above-the-knee amputation and an artificial leg.

“The Segway is agile and nimble—a scooter simply doesn’t have the maneuverability,” says Lacerte, president of Thermoform, which produces kitchen cabinet doors at a 7,432sqm manufacturing plant and warehouse in Nicolet, Quebec. Lacerte relies heavily on his Segway since buying his first one four years ago. Today, Thermoform has five Patrollers, the bulk of which Lacerte purchased secondhand, paying about $4,400 instead of $6,400 for each device.

“The Segway is a big help to me personally—I feel like I have my legs back, and when the Segway is at its maximum speed, I am faster than a marathon runner. It is also a huge benefit to my business, because the Segway allows my main manager to do 10 times the work he did without the device,” Lacerte says.

He notes that once the initial excitement wears off employees tend to travel at less than the maximum speed. “In 18 months, he’ll cover 4,827km on his Segway—he couldn’t do that on foot.”

Users and their employers love the fact the Segways are virtually maintenance-free. As Stanley and Marie-Claire Bourque, Segway’s Canadian sales manager, point out, regular cleaning is a must, whether you’re washing away sand, mud or dirt to keep it looking good and more importantly, to keep the sensors free of dirt or debris. Plug it in to recharge and check the tire pressure periodically to ensure the maximum range can be achieved per charge.

Evidently, the Segway is a viable transportation device and a relevant workplace tool that handily delivers additional benefits such as enhanced communications with the public as well as more motivated, satisfied employees—all for just $4,400 to $6,400 a unit.