As an extension to our blogging on alternative fuel vehicles and hypermiling I am kicking off a series of articles exploring interesting transportation solutions that save both energy costs and the environment. The first installment explores the use of Segways at a local college campus.
A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to spend an hour with a two individuals from the Rochester Institute of Technology talking about their use of Segways on campus. The university recently purchased two different Segway models, the I2 and the X2, in a move to lower their environmental impact. RIT is something of an early adopter of the Segway technology in the Upstate New York region, so of course I had to pay them a visit. Having graduated from RIT, I was already aware of the cultural emphasis on new technology to both improve our quality of life as well as to protect the environment. Thus it seemed fitting that the University was beginning to look to alternate modes of transportation and alternate fuel sources for their campus staff.
For those who donât know, the Segway is a personal mobility solution. The intriguing element is the Segway Smart Motion technology created by Dean Kamen. This technology is the heart and soul of the Segway, allowing it to move based on the user's stance. The Segway website goes into great detail on Kamen's technology.
The introduction of Segways on campus was part of a green initiative, and the benefits have been impressive. The Segways cost only 25 cents for a full charge, which takes about 6 hours and gives the Public Safety officers about 24 to 25 miles of use. With the offset fuel costs RIT expects a return on their initial investment in just three years.
With a campus size of about 1300 square acres, 5 million square feet of which is building space, RIT's Public Safety Officers have a lot of ground to cover. According to David Edborg (Major, Patrol Operations in the Public Safety Department) he can get from one side of campus to another in about 4 minutes. The Segway offers a top speed of approximately 12.5 MPH and has noticeably reduced the department's response time. This has been a noticeable improvement over use of traditional vehicles only. With much of the campus inaccessible by car the ability of the Segway to easily navigate through crowded walkways has also been a great help. In fact the introduction of the Segway has worked out so well that RIT plans to invest in more Segways in the near future and other area institutions have no jumped on the Segway bandwagon.
The university's ongoing effort to reduce their carbon footprint is seen not only in the incorporation of the Segway but also in plans to purchase hydrogen-powered vehicles. Two new hydrogen-fueled cars will be introduced to RIT's fleet in the fall thanks to a grant awarded to the University. These will be complimented by a hydrogen fueling station on University grounds that will be the largest in the area.
Of course I must say that the highlight of the day was trying the Segway out for myself. At first the movement involved in moving the Segway either forward or backward seems strange, but it quickly becomes intuitive as you get your "Segway legs." The Segway is responsive to the littlest shift in weight or turn of the handles, making it very easy to maneuver. While it can look easy to fall off of I actually felt very secure as I inched across the parking lot, trying very hard not to run David over. The Segway easily handles hills and actually adjusts itself as you go up or down hills. There's almost no noise produced and the ride is exceptionally smooth.
Over 800 people had the opportunity to try out one of RIT's Segways at the University's Innovation Festival this past fall, which tells you something about the interest and excitement surrounding the invention. According to David, they have even had visitorâs children successfully trying out the Segway, which is also a big hit with the students.
Spend a couple of hours playing around with it and it becomes second nature, according to Senior Public Safety Officer Mark Koehler. The zero turning radius had to be the coolest part, if a little dizzying. My only problem now is how to get one for myself for morning Starbucks runs and the like.
Keep posted for more updates on my experiences with other new technologies with low environmental impact. Also check out one Segway ownerâs journey across the US in the award-winning indie film 10 MPH.
Here is a very short video of my co-worker, Robin, gearing up to zoom around campus on a Segway.