Larry Lambeth is like the rest of us. He gets up for work in the morning like every one else. But there's something extraordinary in Lambeth's daily commute -- something revolutionary. Lambeth doesn't drive his car to work or take a bus. He doesn't ride his bicycle, walk or even fly. Lambeth's day starts with a ride to the downtown Spokane office on his Segway Human Transporter (HT), the world's first self-balancing, dynamically stabilized human transportation system.
"When I first saw the Segway a year ago, they seemed like such fascinating toys or inventions. I had to find a way to do something with them," says Lambeth, president of an employment screening company, who, with the help of his partner, Ron Criscione, started a second company last month aimed at making Segway HTs a mainstream item.
"We formed a company called Fun Transport," Lambeth explains. "We'll be the first company in the country to train [people to ride] and rent Segways." Fun Transport has 10 Segway HTs already, and plans to start renting them out to people in Spokane the first week of May.
On Saturday, Lambeth will demonstrate Segways in Riverfront Park as a part of the Earth Day celebration. Though Lambeth admits he's mainly intrigued by the technology of the transporter and wasn't initially cognizant of its environmental sustainability, he'll be the first to bring emissions-free human transporters to Spokane, making them available to everyone.
"We're working on a couple of things, possibly a store at Northtown Mall, and we're going through the process to rent them out at Riverfront Park and also different places where people are -- like a fair," Lambeth says.
Unlike a car, the Segway only has two wheels -- it looks something like an ordinary hand-truck -- yet it manages to stay upright by itself.
"Really, it works the same way your brain does," Lambeth explains. "When you want to walk, you lean subconsciously and your body works to keep you upright. When you lean forward, the Segway knows and works to keep you upright. Although it's technically very advanced, the concept is simple."
The Segway HT is the creation of Dean Kamen, known while he was still in college for inventing the first wearable infusion pump while he was still in college; it's now used internationally in diverse medical specialties. Kamen and top engineers in his company, DEKA, also invented the first insulin pump for diabetics, the Home Choice dialysis machine. Kamen holds more than 150 U.S. and foreign patents related to medical devices, climate control systems and helicopter design.
It took Kamen and his team 10 years and $100 million to develop the Segway, but it's an invention many feel is worth the investment. The Segway is being used experimentally around the country with the postal service, the military and in police departments. It may well revolutionize these industries.
Besides its ability to interpret and counterbalance its driver's movement, the Segway is powered by its own rechargeable battery packs, making it environmentally superior to other motorized transportation systems.
In addition, Lambeth's business may prove that all people can be part of creating a sustainable future. Some of the world's best architects, designers, engineers and scientists are working on creating products that are better for the environment -- and the human race. And it's proving profitable. Dick Cheney, of all people, has his own Segway.
Lambeth is hoping to get people wise to these new opportunities. For example, the only other place you can buy a Segway right now is through Amazon.com. The price: $4,950. Lambeth's company, Fun Transport, will give people in Spokane the first opportunity to rent a Segway and try it out, even if they aren't ready to buy one.
"We'll rent them for $20 every half hour," Lambeth says. "You don't need a driver's license, but you have to be at least 16 years old and weigh more than a 100 pounds."
Though the Segway is a brand-new breed of transport, Washington State already has ordinances in place for Segway drivers to follow. Human transporters must abide by the same laws as a car -- but only when on the road. The Segway can go on sidewalks, through grass and even, in certain environments, inside.
The Segway is not meant to be a replacement for cars or walking, says Lambeth; it's meant to provide an alternative for short-distance travel. But some are concerned that the Segway will encourage people to give up walking, affecting health as well as disturbing traditions of walking trails and pedestrian-friendly environs.
"It's mostly for commutes that are too far to walk but too short to take your car," Lambeth says. "It's not supposed to replace walking, but I'm not going to walk in my suit a mile to go to lunch. I'd also rather not take my car and deal with parking."
Lambeth says people he's interacted with on his Segway have all been intrigued. He recalls that trying to shoot a commercial for the Segway proved difficult when he couldn't get people to stop trying to demo them.
"Most places [of business] don't mind if we bring them in," he says. "We park them and everyone just stands around and talks about them."
As human transportation evolves, the fascination over Segways may wear off, but the fact that technology has already risen to the challenge of creating products for us to use in the future creates an exciting prospect. An indisputable aspect of these new technologies is sustainability.
So, whether you're on the Earth Day Segway wagon or not, the future is rolling into town this weekend.
Publication date: 04/17/03