When the Segway first came to Israel a decade ago, it was called “a game changer,” with no less than Steve Jobs saying that it was “as big a deal as the PC.” But the enthusiasm and hype quickly fizzled out as the potential market for the two-wheel self-balancing transporter – urban commuters who were looking an easy way to get from the train station parking lot to their office – found that it was too expensive, too heavy and too inconvenient to use.
That, promises Roadix CTO Benny Shimon, will not happen to his MUVe – the new and improved system that, he said, will pick up where the Segway left off, and bring to fruition the dream of quick and easy personal urban transportation that is inexpensive and easy to use.
Introduced in 2001, the Segway excited the imagination of urban planners, government officials and professionals, especially those in high-tech. Companies such as Google bought whole fleets of Segways to enable workers to get around their campus, and professionals around the US clamored to buy them, joining a waiting list to be among the first to get them when they finally came out in 2002.
But many potential buyers eventually backed off from the system because of the high price. To complicate matters, regulators had to figure out the rules about where, how and when Segways could be used. In many European countries, Segway users were required to get insurance, license plates, lights and a horn, with some classifying it as a moped or even motorcycle.
A 2003 global recall – to correct an issue that caused many of Segway’s users to lose their balance and fall off the device at low speeds – did not help matters.
Lessons learned, said Shimon, who believes MUVe (which stands for My Urban Vehicle) will be everything the Segway isn’t – safe, cheap and street legal.
“The technology in the Segway is fine, and I respect what they have done in the tourism and police markets,” said Shimon, who in 2011 joined with MUVe founder Amir Zaid. “But there were some essential elements that they were missing for the consumer market, and Amir and I, we believe, have corrected these issues.”
Take for example the cost. Marked at $2,000, Shimon said the MUVe’s price is consumer-friendly and potential users will be willing to pay this for a “clean, green, three-wheeled electric-based transportation system that will get them to where they have to go in the most efficient manner possible”.
The MUVe can also fit into the trunk of a commuter’s car, allowing for more freedom and flexibility.
“It weighs a maximum of 35 pounds and can be folded up,” said Shimon. “Amir and I engineered it to fit in a trunk, and to enable a commuter to easily take it out of the trunk and, when they get to their office, to fold it up and wheel it into their office.”
In addition, the system is guaranteed to comply with all local regulations. It will also be equipped with a GPS chip and Internet connection to broadcast its location and send data about the driver’s behavior to the company’s servers.
“If there is a problem, the rider will be able to use an app to call for help, with a repair or tech person coming out to help them with an issue,” said Shimon. “In addition, we can ensure that the rider doesn’t get into trouble with the law because the system lets us set a maximum speed limit in specific areas.”
The objective, noted Shimon, is to ensure that the MUVe operates in a manner similar to electric bikes, and are accepted by authorities as such. The MUVe is battery-powered and can last up to 30 hours on each charge, much like an electric bike.
The system will also sport other cloud-based features. For example, with the app, users will be able to turn on the MUVe only if they enter a code that is sent to the transporter – meaning that only the owners, or someone authorized by them, will be able to get the system started.
Other app features will analyze traffic patterns, provide recommendations on the best routes, and allow for automatic maintenance notifications and analysis of energy usage with tips on saving battery life.
Roadix is entering into beta tests in Israel and several other places, and already has orders from several locations in Europe, in particular from one large corporation that wants to order them for on-campus transportation.
Shimon is sure that Segway customers will snap up the MUVe. But he is just as interested in the consumer market, because, he said, as more people use them, fewer fossil fuel-hungry cars and buses will be on the road.
“After we build our market, our next innovation will be a vending machine that will allow users to rent our transporters,” said Shimon. “They fold flat, so it will be easy to build a vending machine around them. The idea is that people who currently rent bikes in city centers will rent MUVes instead, because they are more convenient and easier to use.”
“Anyone who has seen our MUVe loves it,” added Shimon, pointing out yet another difference between his product and the Segway. “They had their hype moment before the system even came out, and the enthusiasm died down very quickly when people saw the Segway. We’re just the opposite – people get excited after they see the MUVe.”