HAVING JUST SPENT four days in Las Vegas walking through the 2.7 million net square feet of exhibit space at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, I can say this: The transportation devices intended to relieve weary Americans of walking duties were a big hit. They’re small, they’re fun and they’re collectively generating a new buzzword, “micro-mobility.”
The key player in this niche isn’t new. Segway-Ninebot has been at the forefront of not-walking for two decades now, notably helping less-than-fit travelers see the sights and aiding in the Paul Blart-ification of urban police forces. For the next generation of self-balancing transporters—don’t call them “hoverboards”—the brand is crafting what it calls “last-mile solutions” that aim to eliminate those pesky extra steps that suburbanites take from, say, the commuter-train station to big-city offices.
The first of Segway’s “micro-mobility” machines that I stepped onto was its Drift W1 e-Skates ($469, segway.com), a pair of teched-out roller skates that, like most of the brand’s products, rely on one’s willingness to risk tipping over. Lean forward to pick up speed, right or left to easily turn. Eventually, you’ll master tricks like spinning in circles, a maneuver Segway’s integrated marketing manager Brian Pan balletically performed. With a limited battery life of about 45 minutes, however, I wouldn’t waste time showing off mid-commute. I felt wobbly on the e-Skates at first, but never unsafe, as they’re solid underfoot and pretty low to the ground.
I was much more enthusiastic about the Ninebot S ($489), a definitely-not-a-hoverboard that’s the Cadillac to its shoddily built competitors. Everything is bigger, from 10.5-inch tires that can handle variable terrains to the foot platform, built from aviation-grade magnesium alloy. Just lean into the control bar at your knees to turn.
On it, you can travel about 14 miles per 3-to-4-hour charge at 10 mph. Need to get to work quicker? A $799 kit can convert the Ninebot S to a go-kart that fires from 0-12 mph in 2 seconds, at a max of 15 mph, and comes with a handbrake for drifting—an advanced move that may or may not impress your boss.
Most advanced of all is Segway’s LOOMO ($1,499), effectively an AI assistant you can ride, with a robot head added to the knee bar. Step off and it tracks and follows you; it can also take pictures, sync to your phone and carry small bags up to 22 miles. I walked 30,921 steps on day one of CES. If only I’d had this guy at my command.
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Appeared in the January 12, 2019, print edition as ‘You’re Still Walking? What Is It, 2018?.’