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DIY Segway

Last summer, while in a rather bad mood, I decided to vent my spleen upon Segways — writing a bloated rant in which I referred to them as, among other things, “supremely useless, blisteringly overhyped, rideable vacuum cleaners”. Ahem. Many, many Segway owners wrote in to point out that Segways were, in fact, quite useful, particularly for people with mobility problems. That is obviously very very true and I was clearly wrong about its usability.

But the point about being overhyped? I’m sticking with it. So many people have gushed fulsomely about the way-kewl technology behind the Segway (including, heh, me), that you’d assume Dean Kamen reverse-engineered the damn thing from a crashed UFO.

But now it turns out it isn’t that hard to make one yourself — out of parts you can find at a local hardware store. Trevor Blackwell did, and he put up a big web site explaining how:

Self-balancing scooters, like the Segway™ are often thought to be technological miracles, but it is not actually very hard to build one. I built the one described here in about a week using off-the-shelf parts. I spent another week tweaking the high-speed stability, improving the steering control, and writing about it.

Although the Segway has several exotic components, mine is built from common low-tech parts like wheelchair motors and RC car batteries. The parts, even at small quantity retail prices, cost less than half of a genuine Segway. It also doesn’t need complex or high-performance software. The first version was written in Python and used serial ports to talk to the gyroscope and motor controller. The current software, now in C running in an onboard 8-bit microcontroller, is only 500 lines of code.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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