When Rockville Centre native Dean Kamen invented the Segway, the electric self-balancing scooter, in 2001, he envisioned it would “be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.”
While the sales may not have lived up to the extraordinary hype leading up to the product’s launch at Bryant Park in Manhatttan, the two-wheeled device alternately known as the human transporter did become a cultural icon that changed the world nonetheless.
“I don’t know if people will be using Segways to get around cities in 20 years’ time, but I do know they won’t be using cars,” Kamen, 66, told The Economist in 2010. “The financial, emotional, political and environmental costs will be prohibitive.”
With a top speed of 12.5 mph and a fully charged battery giving it a 24-mile range, among its most visible users are tourists, police officers and security guards. Actor Kevin James famously does a Segway dance and chases crooks with his in the comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
It is Kamen’s best-known invention, but it’s far from his only one. His company has patents on more than 400 other innovations worldwide, from a wheelchair that climbs stairs to the insulin pump. He also founded For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), a robot competition for high school students to inspire students to study science worldwide.
Although he now calls a high-tech hexagonal mansion in New Hampshire home, the Worcester Polytechnic Institute dropout also owns North Dumpling, a private island about 20 miles off the coast of Orient Point, keeping his Long Island ties loosely intact.
Jimi Heselden, a British businessman, bought the Segway business from Kamen. But Heselden died when he accidentally drove a Segway off an 80-foot cliff on his estate and into a river in 2010. The tragedy led some to erroneously believe Kamen died.
Despite Heselden’s death and lower-than-expected sales in America, researchers forecast that Segway use will continue to grow internationally as it expands to new markets. So don’t expect it to scoot off into the sunset anytime soon.