Thursday, September 24, 2009

Silly Inventions

In the news this week is the newest invention from Honda:

Basically its a new version of the Segway, only instead of two wheels it has one.

I'm not entirely certain why companies like Honda and Segway have invested what must be massive amounts of money in developing these devices that - so far as I can tell - serve absolutely no purpose that is not already served by current technology.

The Segway was supposed to have revolutionized personal transport by now. Writing this 8 years after its release I have to admit I have never even seen a Segway, which perhaps indicates how much inroads it has made towards supplanting the car as a mode of transport.

There are a lot of reasons put forward for why the Segway was a failure but the most obvious one is that somebody invented the bicycle in the 19th century so we already had an alternative to the car.

To explain the role the bike played in the downfall of the Segway its a bit useful to compare the benefits of car ownership vs. bike ownership.

As a cyclist there are three major areas where I can say that the bicycle is clearly inferior to the car. The first is that the bicycle offers no protection from the elements, making cycling very unpleasant on a cold rainy day. The happy drivers zipping past me on their way to work in their climate-controlled cars listening to soothing music on their sound systems don't have this problem.

The second is carrying capacity. I've basically just got a little basket to put stuff I buy in, so if I want to buy something big I'm pretty much out of luck unless I pay to have it delivered - a problem that car drivers don't have to deal with as much.

The third problem is travelling distance. Unless I plan to pedal all day I'm pretty much restricted to travelling within about a 15 km radius of my home on my bike. Car drivers can obviously go much further than this and steep hills aren't a problem for them either.

Now the thing with the Segway is that it doesn't solve any of these problems. The Segway is just as useless as the bicycle at protecting its rider from the elements, carrying large loads and travelling over long distances.

In fact, the Segway is actually less functional than the bicycle in many ways. It is much wider than a bicycle at ground level, which limits its ability to pass through certain areas that bikes can easily traverse. And of course you have to charge the Segway's batteries after each use whereas a bicycle is pretty much always in a ready-to-use state without any sort of preparation. Perhaps most importantly is the fact that Segways cost thousands of dollars whereas bicycles cost hundreds.

Like the Segway, Honda's new invention seems to be in direct competition with an old piece of technology that performs basically the same function at a fraction of the cost: human feet. It seems like the only purpose of this thing is the allow people to move around without actually having to stand up. I have no idea why we need this. People in office cubicles who might benefit from being able to move around without having to stand up already have a cheap solution to that problem - chairs with little rolly wheels on the bottom. Who on earth would be willing to spend thousands of dollars on a rolling chair that you have to charge every night?

No comments: