Dave Winer on a Segway
Monday, December 10, 2001 by Dave Winer.
This evening I took a 10-minute ride on a Segway.
I had a helper, a guy named Mike from the company that makes it. He coached me on how to use it.
First he turned it off and had me grab the handle bars and push it forward and back. Then he had me do the same thing with the power on. He asked if I could feel the difference. I could. With the power off it was a pair of wheels with a handle. With the power on, it was active. It's hard to describe because I've never felt anything like it before. It understood something about what I was doing. There was resistance, but it wasn't holding me back, it was more like it was holding me up. He asked me to lean into it. I did, but paradoxically, I stayed upright.
Then I put one foot on its platform then the other. It started rolling forward uncontrollably. He said stand up. I did. It stopped. Now lean back, he said. It moved backwards. He didn't have to say anything more. Forward back forward back. It's not that it reads your mind as the initial articles said, it doesn't. You learn to control it with your body motion, it's a feedback loop. At first it's awkward like riding a bike for the first time is awkward. You have to teach your mind to relax about it, and once that happens, you're moving and everything's OK, even if you don't have a clue how it works (I don't).
"How do I turn?" I asked. There's a twist-to-turn hand control that rotates the wheels so you turn. Rotate all the way and you do a 180-degree turn, in place. I started moving around the room (a cocktail party, with a few other baby-stepping Segway users doing as I was) -- I came close to colliding with a few people, but somehow managed to avert disaster each time by leaning back a little and twisting the turn control.
I spent ten minutes on it, then it was time to let someone else play. I didn't want to stop. Getting off is like taking your ski boots off after a day on the mountain. You have to learn how to walk again. It's the first time I've learned a new way of moving in a personal way, in a very long time. It's as different as riding a bike is from walking, as skiing is from driving a car.
They have all kinds of applications in mind for Segway. I talked with Dean Kamen and asked what his aspirations are. He's thinking quite big. Like a lot of instantly popular entrepreneurs the rush of fame and adulation has gone to his head. At this meeting were about 100 other people, including some formerly huge names in high tech. The one negative of the evening was Kamen's hubris, which he can be forgiven for. I'd like him to be serious, not self-indulgent, if his invention is to have the chance it deserves, he'll have to get over himself, at least a little.
They have some serious applications in mind, but I don't think they get the big app, the killer app for this product, which is that it is fun. I'm disappointed to hear that the consumer product won't ship until 2003. My advice for the investors and entrepreneur is get this into people's hands as soon as possible, let them play, so what if they don't take it seriously. There's no quicker way to success than to have a product that people enjoy as much as skiing, without the travel, without the bundling up, and without the lift lines or long rides to the top of the mountain.
Key take-away from the initial ride: It's Fun.
I think that's all you need to know.
I'll be writing more about the product on Scripting News in the next few days, for sure.
PS: Thanks to John Doerr for inviting me to this evening's event. He promised it would be inspiring and it was. He's a sweet man, that he would bet so big on such a wacky idea says there's hope for us. Why not give it a chance? You bet.