Friday, June 5, 2009

Gliding to Concord

I set out from my hotel yesterday morning and walked the five miles to Segway Headquarters. Sarah from Segway, recommended a shortcut over the river on a train trestle.


I was imagining the scene from Stand by Me, but luckily there was plenty of space to walk on the side. And I didn't even see a train. Pretty soon I had arrived at the Segway offices.


Sarah greeted me inside and wasted no time in getting me on one of their PTs (personal transporters). I'd been on a Segway once before, but only for a few minutes. This time I'd be riding over 25 miles on one. She went through a basic introduction. "You don't have to balance on a Segway, the Segway balances you," she instructed as I stepped on. She put the PT in "turtle mode" and I started gliding around the parking lot at a very sensible 3-4 miles an hour. Then Gerri- who'd be joining me on the road- came out and went over some safety precautions and the various alerts I should be looking out for. Basically, you can occasionally look down at the electronic display to make sure that the little profile of a face (which reminded me of Jay Leno) is still smiling.


After practicing some quick stops, I was ready to graduate from "turtle mode" and start cruising closer to 12 MPH. We took a lap around the building to practice some hills and inclined stops. Next we headed back inside to meet up with some product developers. I had heard about the PUMA, (acronym for Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility), project
a few months back, and I really wanted to check it our for myself. The prototype happened to be at the headquarters and Derrick was able to take me for a spin on it.


As you get harnessed in and pull down the sidebar it feels like you're getting into a roller coaster. And then you're off. It zips around surprisingly fast and fluidly, and it's only on two wheels! Your feet sit on a little shelf that shifts forward and backward as the whole body of the car seamlessly balances itself on the wheels. And it maneuvers amazing well since it's got a zero turning radius, which basically means it can spin in place. They're working with GM on building the PUMA, which goes about 35 MPH and can go for about an hour on a charge. Derrick also showed me another prototype for the Centaur, a vehicle they're no longer developing.


They basically used components they had already developed, and tried to see what else they could put together. The Centaur moves pretty fast and can do some impressively long and stable wheelies. Check it out:

And then it was time to leave on my Segway PT pilgrimage to Concord, NH. I secured my helmet, hopped on, and along with Gerri on bike and Sarah in the auxiliary vehicle, we headed north.


I was amazed at the intuitiveness of it all. At first I was very conscious of shifting my weight to operate the PT, but pretty soon I was just admiring the passing woods and fields as I glided around 10-12 MPH. And whether you're going up or down hills, it operates just as smoothly and consistently. When you start approaching the Segway's speed limit of 12.5 MPH, the handlebar starts pressing against you, encouraging you to lean back a bit and slow down. It's a little surprising at first, having the device interact with you, but pretty soon I was able to find the "sweet spot" a little under 12MPH that allowed me to glide without interference.


We took some breaks, but the 25 miles took around 3 hours. I was surprised that my legs were a little sore afterward. I guess standing for three hours has it's effects, and I think I was using my knees to compensate a little over some of the uneven terrain. We entered Concord and rode to the Capitol to pose for some photos.


Then I glided over to beautiful and historic The Centennial Hotel, where I spent the night. It used to be a home for Civil War widows, and every room looks a little different. Mine had a huge deck and a little circular sitting room.

And now... I'm not sure. I have to get to Claremont, NH by the end of the day, but I'm still not exactly sure how I'll do that. I could bike, but it's about fifty miles and honestly, that's not my first choice. I'm looking into some scooter, airplane, and hot air balloon options, and we'll see what I can come up with. And feel free to send ideas this way.

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