Segway has announced a new product, the S-Pod. It’s a chair on wheels that is set to launch in airports in 2020 before making its way to urban streets. And this time, we’re not laughing.
The original Segway, which debuted in 2001, was supposed to replace walking. Obviously it didn’t. The two-wheeled, self-balancing device cruised at speeds up to 10mph, and while richly parodied for all sorts of good reasons (what sort of lazy human being would spend $5,000 simply not to walk at walking speed?), it teased a future of lightweight, urban mobility products that are now en vogue with the rise of bike shares and electric scooters.
A lot has changed for the company over the past five years. While you were forgetting the Segway existed, the company was bought by the Beijing-based company Ninebot in 2016. Since then, Segway has amassed a staggering 70% of the global electric scooter market share, according to the company, thanks to partnerships with shared ride companies like Lyft and Jump. Segway scooters are now distributed across 100 countries, and the company isn’t slowing down. Within the past few months, it announced a moped, new delivery robots, and even a motorcycle.
At the Consumer Electronics Show this week, the company is debuting another new device—along with a radical new plan that is firmly in-line with the company’s original vision of changing the way we move around cities. The Segway S-Pod is what the company calls a self-balancing “first class” chair that cruises on two wheels at speeds of up to 24mph. The design looks right out of Wall-E‘s dystopian intergalactic cruise ship future. In fact, Segway claims it was inspired by the hamster ball gyrospheres in the recent Jurassic Park reboot.
The S-Pod seat itself looks luxuriously plush; to control it, you lean forward to accelerate, or back to slow down. A navigational pad sits by your hand at the ready, too. Its safety features aren’t entirely clear, but in at least some markets it will feature a seatbelt, and top speeds will be limited. (Incidentally, Segway kept its landmark two-wheeled design for the S-Pod, rather than adding four wheels, because it allows a more adaptive center of gravity to prevent the S-Pod from tipping.)
The S-Pod is far closer to a real product than a concept, but it won’t be sold directly to consumers. Instead, Segway plans to partner with airports, malls, theme parks, and corporate campuses to launch it sometime this year. In these controlled spaces, Segway sees the S-Pod first and foremost as an accessibility device. Consider it the new Rascal, or casual wheelchair, that people with limited mobility use in sprawling environments.
The 2020 launch may only be a test for a longer-term vision of what the S-Pod could do. Segway’s spokesperson tells Co.Design that in the future, it plans to create an autonomous S-Pod for cities. Here it would be more of an Uber-for-one, or perhaps something akin to the original Segway, but with less effort from the rider required. As a spokesperson puts it, a chair makes sense simply because “sitting is more comfortable [than standing] and could be accessible to people with physical challenges.” And it’s true. Maybe the original Segway was just missing a seat.