In Pixar’s 2008 movie WALL-E, which is set in the 29th century, our adorable, eponymous robot hero travels to the massive luxury space cruiser the Axiom. When he arrives, he finds that all of humanity has evolved into boneless consumerist blobs, eating constantly, babbling at screens, and lounging in high-speed, floating chairs.
Luckily, or unluckily, for us, we might not have to wait that long. Next week, Segway will debut new personal transporter pods at CES, the huge annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. It’s called the S-Pod, and it doesn’t float. Instead, it uses Segway’s self-balancing technology to propel the user forward on two wheels, while sitting down.
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The commercial version of the S-Pod is intended for use on closed campuses, like airports, theme parks, or the deck of a luxury space cruiser 800 years in the future. It’s billed as intuitive and easy to use. Unlike Segway’s signature transporter, you don’t have to lean forward or backward to make it move. Instead, the rider navigates via a knob on a navigational control panel.
While its speed is locked at 7.5 mph maximum, it can be unlocked to reach 24.8 mph. Unlocked, it might be illegal on many public streets; most city-legal e-bikes max out at 20 mph. It also has a range of 43 miles and can climb angles of up to 10 degrees. Segway has also noted that because you brake the S-Pod by shifting the pod’s center of gravity, it’s almost impossible to tip it over.
Too Dorky to Live
Around WIRED’s Gadget Lab, we have a catchphrase known as “the Segway problem.” It usually refers to a device that’s revolutionary but is too awkward, bulky, or just plain geeky for people to use.
It’s too soon to tell if the S-Pod will also suffer from the Segway problem, but right now, the S-Pod still seems limited in scope. Since it’s intended for theme parks or malls, it’s not part of the great transportation revolution that will help replace cars—unless you’re using a gas-powered vehicle to get between the Dippity-Doo and the spinning teacups, for some reason.
That’s not to say you couldn’t try to use it around a city or as a commuter vehicle. But it’s 60 inches tall and weighs a cool 330.7 pounds, so you can’t carry it up or down a flight of stairs if the subway station elevator is broken. Segway said the S-Pod could accommodate a payload of up to 265 pounds.
The Segway is associated with tour groups who are too lazy to walk. Building a chair so that people don’t even have to stand might be a little too on-brand for a company whose name already invites some mockery and sarcasm. Segway’s design notes state that the chair was modeled after the gyroscope pods in Jurassic World, but it’s impossible to look at it without thinking of future humans zooming around, drinking their lunch from a cup.
Still, the S-Pod could replace more cumbersome golf carts, or non-motorized wheelchairs, for people with limited mobility who need to navigate airports or other high-traffic areas. The consumer version will go on sale in 2021, and the company declined to reveal the planned price. WIRED’s Gadget Lab will also look at the rest of Segway’s lineup, including new e-scooters, e-bikes, and e-mopeds, at CES next week.
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