Segway Gets Officers Moving on Two Wheels

Segway Inc. has continued its courting of the law enforcement market with the August 2006 launch of the company's next generation of Personal Transporters (PT) — the Segway i2 and x2 Pts, and the i2 and x2 Police packages. These new machines and their respective Police packages are the combined result of technological advances, end-user feedback, and miles and miles of product testing, says Klee Kleber, vice president of marketing for the Bedford, New Hampshire-based company.

The first Segway PT (originally referred to as a Human Transporter, or HT) was unveiled in late 2001 and started hitting the market in 2002, raising quite a stir. Initially, folks didn't know quite what to think about the battery-operated, two-wheeled machines swooping silently down the streets or sidewalks, their motion controlled almost imperceptibly by the rider. But the Segway soon caught on, says Kleber.

"That year we sold many of these devices to commercial accounts, private security and police departments," he recalls. "Our business is growing about 50 percent a year now, and the fastest growing segment has been law enforcement. The number of departments purchasing Segways has doubled over the last 18 months."

A new way to move

As of this writing, more than 150 law enforcement agencies worldwide use Segways for a variety of purposes, such as parking enforcement, patrol, providing crowd control and event security, and in community policing activities.

And they're traversing all manner of terrain — bike paths and trails, gravel and even sand — in all kinds of weather, says Kleber, addressing some of the common misperceptions folks have about the devices.

"There's perception that you can't use them in the rain or snow, but that's not true," he says. "You can use them in the rain and in light snow. And you can use them in the cold, the batteries are operable to 14 degrees Fahrenheit and we have cold-weather tires.

"People also think you can only ride them on pavement and that they can't go uphill," Kleber continues. "But we've got tourists riding them up and down the streets of San Francisco. The main thing you need is traction. Anywhere you have traction you can ride."

The device provides a range of benefits agencies find very attractive, says Kleber. One of the biggest is budgetary. Since the Segway runs on batteries, plugging into a normal outlet, agencies can noticeably reduce fuel expenses.

"It's very efficient," he says. "It gets the equivalent of 450 mpg if it was gas instead of electric. It costs less than buying a newspaper to charge it. And it's nice that it has zero emissions. This fits into the clean air goals that many cities have."

Segways can free up patrol vehicles for other functions, another cost savings. Also, officers who formerly walked their beat can now ride, allowing them to respond far more swiftly to emergencies and with much less fatigue. And because officers on a Segway are taller (their height is elevated by 8 inches) they have greater visibility — and are more visible themselves.

There's also great PR value in these machines, Kleber says.

"In the United States, I hear a lot about community policing," he says. "And of all the benefits, this is probably the top one. If you're in a car, you're not very approachable, but when you're on a Segway PT, you can move two to three times faster than walking speed, but still remain approachable. People come from all over to talk to you."

Changing with the times

There are significant differences between the first- and second-generation Segways, although they share many commonalities (see "Additional information" above for more product information). For example, they both employ the company's "dynamic stabilization" technology to move forward and back, and to perfectly balance the rider — even when the machine isn't motion.

Carla Vallone, communications manager for Segway explains that designed into the device are five solid-state gyroscopes, 10 microprocessors and two motors that monitor a rider's center of gravity 100 times a second and make the adjustments necessary to maintain the user's balance. This dynamic stabilization technology results in a very intuitive ride, Vallone says.

However, the earlier version allowed riders to control forward and backward motion by leaning in the desired direction. When they wanted to go left, right or in a circle they had to turn a handle grip. The new generation i2 and x2 Segways have incorporated new "LeanSteer" technology into the machines, eliminating the hand grip altogether. Now, riders simply have to lean in whatever direction they want to travel, making the experience even more intuitive.

"Technology progresses and there was the opportunity to make this change and improvement," says Kleber. "We like to say the best user interface is no interface at all."

Additionally, he continues, the old handlebar was fixed to the base, while the new one pivots at the base, providing a smoother ride over bumps and bumpy terrain.

Officer Clyde Heyliger is with the Maryland Transportation Authority police and has been patrolling the airport terminal for over six years now. The first four were spent walking the huge terminal; the last two years he's used a Segway.

"When we first got them, we had some mixed feelings," he recalls. "A lot of the officers wanted bikes, and they thought the Segway looked kind of silly. But once they tried it, they liked it. With the Segway we're able to respond much faster, help out the other officers faster and cover the airport faster. Plus, I think a lot of people would rather see us riding Segways than see a lot of officers running at them."

He tried out the Segway i2 for a couple of hours and immediately noticed the differences.

"The new one is easier to maneuver because you can lean, rather than turn the grip," Heyliger says. "It's a lot easier to work with. And, the rubber grip used to get worn out — we use them 24/7, 360 days a year — and with the new one you don't have to worry about this."

Heyliger also likes the wireless InfoKey; another technological advancement. The old model relied on different keys for different speeds, says Kleber. Moving from one speed to the next required the rider to step down, turn off the machine and insert the desired key. The new InfoKey allows you to preset the speed, or, if a change is desired once in motion, you simply have to stop, step off the machine and set the speed, without having to turn it off or contend with multiple keys.

The InfoKey (each is uniquely programmed to work with only one specific Segway) also acts as an information center, providing real-time readouts on speed, mileage, battery life and system performance, says Kleber. The InfoKey also lets users activate a security system that will lock the wheels and sound an alarm should the Segway be moved. And if you're within 30 to 50 feet of the machine, you'll get a visual notification on the InfoKey as well.

The right Segway for the job

The Segway i2 is best-suited for urban policing — although it can do some off-road, says Kleber. It can be outfitted with the i2 Police package that includes a handlebar bag, an accessory bar for lights and sirens, side cargo supports (these also double as lift handles) and plates, locking hard cases, decal kits so departments can affix reflexive police labels and other insignia, comfort mats and LED taillight.

The Segway x2 is designed for outdoor environments such as parks, recreation areas, campuses and trails. Its all-terrain tires can even traverse sand for beach patrols. It's wider than the i2, says Kleber, so if an agency is primarily urban, the x2 would probably take up too much space for city work. However, he adds, if an officer is 100-percent outdoors, go with this one.

It can be equipped with the x2 Police package that includes a handlebar bag, an accessory bar for lights and sirens, LED taillights, reflective labels and two universal cargo plates and cargo frames that double as lift handles.

As for learning how to ride these machines, training on the basics — and this is provided by the dealer — takes about 45 minutes, says Kleber. However, Segway is investigating creating a training program specifically for law enforcement. Some of the areas covered would include patrolling techniques, crowd control and how to respond to emergencies — topics agencies have expressed interest in.

"Our No. 1 goal is to listen to the customer," says Kleber. "We will continue to take that feedback and use it to make improvements to the products and services we offer."

Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California. She specializes in writing about public safety issues.