This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Archive for the tag “transportation”

In the New Century . . . All Will Have Wheels


December 3, 2001: Segway Unveiled

Dean Karmen

Dean Karmen

Inventor Dean Kamen unveils the Segway self-balancing, battery-powered vehicle on the TV show, Good Morning America. The Segway is a personal transport device that uses five gyroscopes and a built-in computer to remain upright. The first Segway used no brakes and did a nifty 12 mph. Users shift their weight to control the Segway. While not considered a commercial success, the Segway has definitely become a familiar icon of personal transportation. (Above cartoon from Brown County Democrat, December 28, 1900)


Dynamic Stabilization

Dean Kamen’s team developed a breakthrough technology the company termed “Dynamic Stabilization,” which is the essence of the Segway. Dynamic Stabilization enables Segway self-balancing emulation to work seamlessly with the body’s movements. Gyroscopes and tilt sensors in the Segway HT monitor a user’s center of gravity about 100 times a second.


bz 01-04-11 SEGWAY

When a person leans slightly forward, the Segway moves forward. When leaning back, the Segway moves back. This balancing act is the most amazing thing about the Segway, and it is the key to its operation. To understand how this system works, it helps to consider Kamen’s model for the device — the human body.


If you stand up and lean forward, so that you are out of balance, you probably won’t fall on your face. Your brain knows you are out of balance, because fluid in your inner ear shifts, so it triggers you to put your leg forward and stop the fall. If you keep leaning forward, your brain will keep putting your legs forward to kee­p you upright. Instead of falling, you walk forward, one step at a time.

The Segway does pretty much the same thing, except it has wheels instead of legs, a motor instead of muscles, a collection of microprocessors instead of a brain and a set of sophisticated tilt sensors instead of an inner-ear balancing system. Like your brain, the Segway knows when you are leaning forward. To maintain balance, it turns the wheels at just the right speed, so you move forward.


Glowing pre-release reviews from Mr. Jobs, Mr. Doerr, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, among other tech giants – spurred huge hype. Steve Jobs said it would be bigger than the PC. Venture capitalist John Doerr (who backed Netscape and Amazon) said it would be bigger than the Internet. Inventor Dean Kamen said it would be to the car what “the car was to the horse and buggy.” Today? The Segway hasn’t exactly lived up to its early-Millennium hype.


After its release in 2002 the Segway quickly sputtered to a halt. Since Segways could go up to 13 m.p.h., they were not allowed on segway X2most sidewalks. However, they also went too slow for many roads, leaving customers unsure of where to ride them. Plus, the $4,950 debut price put the machines far out of budget for the average consumer. By 2004, Segway was out of its initial investment money and would have to mortgage its factory.

Since then, Segway has been able to bounce back a bit, gaining contracts with police departments, security companies, and golf courses, and has seen 50 percent sales growth per year since it was first released. For now, however, it appears what most Segways have changed is the state of the tourism industry, with Segway tours in nearly every major city in the United States.

Classic Crashes


On a Tragic Note:   Segway Owner Drives Segway Off Cliff

James Heselden (1948–2010), having recently purchased the Segway production company, died in a single-vehicle Segway accident. Heselden was a former coal miner and British entrepreneur.  He made his fortune manufacturing the Hesco bastion barrier system. In 2010, he bought Segway Inc. He died from injuries sustained from falling from a cliff whilst riding his Segway.

Jimi Heselden

Jimi Heselden

At 11:40 a.m. on 26 September 2010, West Yorkshire Police received reports of a man falling 213 feet into the River Wharfe, near Boston Spa, apparently having fallen from the cliffs above. The fall from a narrow footpath was witnessed by a man walking his dog nearby. A Segway vehicle was recovered and Heselden was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

The narrow pathway used by walkers is littered with tree roots and is rutted and uneven for most of its length. The Segway was found in the river near his body, indicating that he was still riding the scooter when he drove over the cliff.


Mr. Heselden bought the Segway company in a deal last December and planned to further develop the machine.



Here’s an Idea…Music in your Car!


September 26, 1928:  First Day at Galvin Manufacturing Corporation

On this day in 1928, work begins at Chicago’s new Galvin Manufacturing Corporation (the company had officially incorporated the day before). In 1930, Galvin would introduce the Motorola radio, the first mass-produced commercial car radio (the name had two parts: “motor” evoked cars and motion, while “ola” derived from “Victrola” and was supposed to make people think of music).


Paul Galvin










In 1921, engineer Paul Galvin and his friend Edward Stewart started a storage-battery factory in Marshfield, Wisconsin; it went out of business two years later. In 1926, Galvin and Stewart re-started their battery-manufacturing company, this time in Chicago. That one went out of business too, but not before the partners figured out a way for home radios to draw power from an electrical wall outlet; they called it the dry-battery eliminator. Galvin bought back the eliminator part of his bankrupt company at auction for $750 and went right back into business, building and repairing eliminators and AC radio sets for customers like Sears, Roebuck.

Battery Eliminator

Battery Eliminator

Soon, however, Galvin’s attention turned to the car-radio business. The first car radios–portable “travel radios” powered by batteries, followed by custom-installed built-in radios that cost $250 apiece (about $2,800 in today’s dollars)–had appeared in 1926, but they were way too expensive for the average driver. If he could find a way to mass-produce affordable car radios, Galvin thought, he’d be rich.

featurestory_history_carradio_218x247In June 1930, he enlisted inventors Elmer Wavering and William Lear to retrofit his old Studebaker with a radio and drove 800 miles to the Radio Manufacturers Association’s annual meeting in Atlantic City. He parked outside the convention, turned up the music (for this purpose, Wavering had installed a special speaker under the Studebaker’s hood), and waited for the RMAers’ orders to come rolling in.

Photo of the "control head" for the radio.  This mounted on the steering column and the controls were connected to the radio chassis via steel cables, much like the speedometer cable.

Photo of the “control head” for the radio. This mounted on the steering column and the controls were connected to the radio chassis via steel cables, much like the speedometer cable.

A few did, and Galvin sold enough of his $110 5T71 car radios to come close to breaking even for the year. He changed featurestory_history_carradioinstall_218x244his company’s name to Motorola and changed the way we drive–and ride in–cars forever.

For his part, William Lear went on to invent the eight-track cartridge-tape system, which was offered as an option in the select Ford cars (Mustang, Thunderbird, and Lincoln), starting in 1966 (also founding the Lear Jet Corp). Meanwhile, carmakers developed their own radio-manufacturing divisions, gradually squeezing Motorola out of the market it had built. The company stopped making car radios in 1984.


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