The Segway was supposed to revolutionise human transportation but now the owner of the company that makes them is dead and questions are being raised over the safety of the two-wheeled motorised machines.
Not long after it was revealed that the British millionaire owner of Segway Inc, James Heselden, died after driving one over a cliff, a new study has been published online in the Annals of Emergency Medicine reporting that injuries associated with the transporter are increasing.
Heselden, 62, reportedly fell off a nine metre cliff into a river while driving an all-terrain version of the Segway near his home in West Yorkshire, Britain.
Police found his body and the smashed up Segway in the River Wharfe, where Heselden was pronounced dead. They said foul play was not suspected.
The Segway, which can travel at speeds of about 20 kilometres per hour, uses gyroscopes among other technology to accelerate and balance. Users move forward by leaning forward and stop by leaning back, but move too rapidly and you could fall off.
Former US President George W. Bush famously fell off one at his family estate in Maine, but was able to leap from the machine and land uninjured on his feet.
Gordian Fulde, head of emergency at St Vincent's Hospital, said in a phone interview he had seen "a handful" of Segway injuries but injuries he had seen were more minor, ranging from scrapes to broken wrists. But he said older people were most at risk from accidents on two wheels.
"If you're walking along and you trip, we're nearly built to cover that, but if you're on some sort of apparatus you're already in an unnatural position from how we were designed to compensate for our fall," he said.
"When it really goes wrong you're in an awkward position and you can't really save yourself.
"Segways are fun but obviously they're best on solid, even ground. As soon as one starts doing off road on anything you enlarge the risk ratio."
In the Segway safety case review, Dr Mary Pat McKay, professor of emergency medicine and public health at the George Washington University, counted 41 Segway injuries between April 2005 and November 2008 among patients who attended the George Washington emergency room.
"Several cases involved the rider unintentionally striking an immobile object, including a park bench, a signpost, a light pole, and a tree,” the article reads.
10 of those cases were admitted to the hospital and four were taken to intensive care. No one died but patients suffered serious facial trauma, fractures and brain injuries.
Separately, in 2004, a 59-year-old man reportedly died after falling off a Segway.
It is not clear how many Segways are in use in Australia but some estimates put the global figure at about 80,000.
They are popular around the world with law enforcement, tour companies, postal services and some commuters. Sydney-based Marathon Robotics sold Segway-based robots to US Marines for sharpshooter target practice in July, while tourists at Moreton Island, off Brisbane, use off-road models to glide along the sand.
McKay said only seven per cent of patients wore helmets, which are not required by law for Segway riders in Washington. She said many more cases of injury likely existed in other emergency departments but it was difficult to tell as Segway injuries aren't recorded separately.
In Australia the regulations are more murky, said Michael Mote, owner of Segway Southern Cross, which distributed the machines in Australia from 2003 until 2009 and still sells Segway parts. He said it was not clear whether Segways were classified as a bicycle, a motorised vehicle or neither.
Mote said in the years he was distributing the Segway in Australia he would've sold about 500 units and rejected suggestions they were unsafe.
"I've personally done 5000 kilometres on a Segway and I've never fallen off in an accident," he said.
"What about bicycles, what about skateboards, life is dangerous and it's very easy to sit in an armchair and say well someone got injured on a scooter or a skateboard or a pair of white shoes or something ... should we ban white shoes because someone tripped over in white shoes?"
The owner of the current Australian distributors, Segway Tours Australia, did not respond to a call requesting comment.
The company sells them and rents them out for rides from $45 at Newington Armory in Sydney Olympic Park. Its website shows pictures of Segways being used at Star City casino and by Target staff.
The Segway was first unveiled by inventor Deam Kamen in 2001 and hailed as being revolutionary. Kamen said it would be to the car what the car was to the horse and cart.
But sales ended up being far less than expected due to the high price - they cost about $10,000 in Australia - and their size, which is too big for foot paths and too small for roads.
Soon after Bush's tumble in 2003 all of the models on the market were recalled because of a battery issue that caused riders to fall off when the battery ran low.
Heselden's company, Hesco Bastion, bought the Segway maker late last year. He had previously invented blast walls to replace the sand bags that protect troops in war zones.
"Segway's a very complex product and in our opinion they made one error in the way they designed their battery systems and it became a very inconvenient thing ... if you let the batteries go flat they may fail and the Segway factory's recommendation is you just buy a new set of batteries for a grand," said Mote.
"We solved the battery problem for Segway and we export that solution to Segway dealers around the world."
Mote said the Segway didn't achieve the mass penetration its inventors were hoping but he said he still believed the Segway or something like it was the future of transport.
"We've used virtually half the oil in the world in a century ... you can't as a society have one tonne vehicles to carry 100 kilogram people around - it's just not sustainable," he said.