It was all a bit confusing. The guy beating the gong in Rank Organisation movies in the early 70s and the sister organization Rank Xerox which led the way in the office equipment field.
The bottom line, as they used to say in the fast-cliched world of business, is that I applied for a job which I thought would transport me to Hollywood faster than you could say Scorcese…and ended up selling copying machines in the City of London.
But there was magic in the air. It was called the Rank Xerox Telecopier and, believe it or not, using the wizardry of this incredible device, you could send a copy of a letter from your London office to the branch in Guildford.
I can see you nodding your head right now. Full marks! It was the forerunner of the fax machine. But maybe forestaggerer would be a better word. It took nearly two decades for the global market to catch on. Because it not only takes two to tango, but it took two to telecopy and two to fax.
When the Segway PT was launched in the US in December 2001, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said it would be “as big a deal as the PC .”
Yet, nearly eight years later, the Segway is still something of a rarity in its country of birth and the chances are you have only seen one being piloted by a security guard at your favourite shopping centre.
The Segway goes against everything we know and feel about balance and all those boring lectures about the Laws of Gravity. You and I know that it’s impossible to stand still on a two-wheeled scooter and not tumble on to your derriere in a nanosecond.
But an American inventor by the name of Dean Kamen took Sir Isaac head-on and went all out to prove that the cilia could be upstaged by a balancing act that takes place a hundred times a second!
Dean, who remains single but has the company of a cast-iron steam engine in the middle of his house, had already come up with the iBot – a wheelchair that can climb stairs and negotiate curbs. So he tweaked the top secret formula of computer managed Gyroscopic sensors and motors and hey-presto…the Segway Personal Transporter was born.
It’s amazing to see the look of suspicion and disbelief as a new recruit steps aboard and gingerly holds the “lean steer” handlebar. Within seconds the wide-eyed look has turned to a huge smile as one of the oldest laws of physics crumbles beneath them.
Lean forward and Ginger goes forward – up to a governed top speed of 20 kilometres per hour. Lean back and she silently comes to a halt. Ginger is a nickname which followed the development of the iBot. He was called Fred Upstairs!
Over the years, the design has been refined to two main models – the pavement savvy i2 and the rugged x2 which my son soon had ramping off the flower beds.
With a price tag of over R70 000 a pop. They are probably a tad too expensive for most Xmas stockings. And although they are ideal for gliding around the factory or warehouse it could be a difficult job to get it passed by the group accountant.
So, like the Telecopier in the 70s, the Segway remains a quirky status symbol. How long before it embraces it’s true potential and replaces some of the 500 million car trips a day in the US that are less than 8 kilometres and single passenger?
Hopefully not another two decades.