Futuristic scooter promises unlimited possibility

Chris Schafer

It” debuted for the first time ever two days ago. This ambiguous pronoun was the nickname for the new, motorized scooter being touted as one of the most revolutionary inventions ever. To clarify, this machine, christened “the Segway” upon its unveiling, is certainly not just any old scooter and it definitely bears no resemblance to the absurd, miniature models that appeared – for about three months – around campus last year.

The Segway is quite a bit more sophisticated than its lesser counterparts and is much bigger as well. The scooter stands chest high and weighs in at 65 pounds. Presenters of this futuristic scooter were more than happy to display for the media the Segway’s ability to ride smoothly over tough terrain, including sticks and rocks, and through grass. In demonstrations, the machine proved just as capable at handling the obstacles of the urban world as well, such as cobblestone paths and stairs. It was even able to travel down a steep ramp, slowly and under control, then return back up the ramp, in reverse.

An internal battery powers the scooter, which, after six hours of charging, is capable of propelling the scooter for roughly 15 miles. The Segway is capable of traveling at a brisk pace as well, achieving speeds upwards of 20 miles per hour.

Naturally, upon its initial display, questions abounded: What can it do? What can’t it do? How much does it cost? When the machine is made available to the consuming public next year, the sticker price is expected to be roughly three grand; however, as the product becomes more widespread and efficiency in manufacturing increases, prices are expected to drop (unless Microsoft gets their hands on it, of course).

My initial curiosity with the Segway was to ask why the most obese nation in the world needs yet another technological trinket to excuse us from walking. As Segway-related questions pop up across the country, it’s imperative we consider the role it could have on our own little makeshift society here at the University.

First of all, what about parking? This is typically one of the top three questions on the average student’s mind anyway (just behind, “How’d I do on my test?” and “Do I really want to go to class today?”). Indeed, a great deal of the average student’s commuting time goes into looking for and landing that perfect parking spot.

The Segway could change the parking crisis entirely. One could fit six or seven of these mechanized scooters into one parking space, thus effectively reducing the vehicle-to-space ratio (which is getting more and more lopsided every year). So it would save us space, but would it save money on parking?

After all, where would we park our newly acquired contraptions – the Gopher lot? There’s no dashboard to put your parking slip on; so if you lost the slip, would you still have to pay 22 dollars? Would you pay to park at all? After all, what’s to stop you from just picking up your scooter and throwing it over that flimsy little chain link fence they have blocking alternate exits? The machine does weigh 65 pounds but the average guy should be able to lift it. Girls might need a friend to help them (though some guys, including me, are probably better off asking the girls to do it for us).

Unfortunately, the machine’s potential infiltration on campus might exacerbate the jaywalking epidemic. To an average University driver, it probably doesn’t seem jaywalking can get any worse. The general rule on this campus, although altogether unspoken, is that any intersection is safe to cross at any time, so long as the number of people willing to do so is great enough to seriously damage any car that might strike them.

Sometime long ago, it seems it was roughly decided that eight was the minimum number of people needed to offset one oncoming car. I don’t really know how this number came about (not that it keeps me up at night). But with the Segway scooters on campus, the necessary ratio of walkers to riders for street dominance becomes much more egalitarian. If there are more Segways on the road instead of cars, walkers will be less prone to become human speedbumps.

Because the machine is built more like a bike than a car, both in size and speed, walkers can be much bolder when it comes to crossing the street at times when they
shouldn’t. After all, the last thing any new owner of a $3000 piece of machinery wants to do is crash one into some cumbersome moose who probably wouldn’t know what hit him. In time, the “don’t walk” symbol will be nothing more than a pedestrian yellow light, destined to be noticed, yet always ignored.

There are many more questions that emerge with the prospect of the Segway’s oncoming presence at the University. Will there be bike racks for them, so students can ride them to class? Will we be able to ride them on the top of the Washington Avenue Bridge with the bikes, or must they be ridden below with the cars?

Finally, what will happen to the campus connectors if students begin using the scooters as their main mode of transportation between West Bank, East Bank, and St. Paul? It might be necessary for the bus service to cut routes down in order to maintain that packaged sardine feel that is their trademark.

It seems the Segway will make life profoundly easier for the average individual here on campus. Parking will be easier, cross-campus travel will be quicker and recharging a battery will be much cheaper than refilling a gas tank.

As students, it appears our future glimmers with possibility and hope. The Segway offers a cornucopia of limitless opportunities, and if it wasn’t for that tuition increase, we might actually be able to afford them.


Chris Schafer’s column appears alternate Wednesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected] Send letters to the editor to [email protected]