For the able-bodied, walking, while healthy, can be a pain. That’s especially true in Las Vegas, where the Strip feels like a neverending sprawl of interconnected casinos and flashing neon lights. Given that I average around 20,000 steps a day while at CES, taking Segway-Ninebot’s new S-Pod—a self-balancing stroller—for a spin felt like a good way to give my poor feet a break.
To test drive the S-Pod, I took a little trip to Segway’s booth, which features a mini-track. I’m not the world’s worst driver, but I am accident-prone. Needless to say, after signing a waiver and strapping on a helmet I was nervous that somehow I’d end up zooming straight off the track and into a neighbouring booth.
Those fears turned out to be overblown. Unlike the original Segway, the S-Pod is glorious because you don’t actually have to stand or do any balancing yourself. There’s no leaning forward or backward—the S-Pod shifts your centre of gravity automatically for you. Climbing into the chair feels a little weird, sort of like falling into a moving recliner, but I never felt like I was in danger of toppling out. The thing is also slightly smaller in person than you’d think based on the pictures. Think of a slightly bigger gaming chair, complete with RGB lighting, that you can drive.
Learning to drive the S-Pod was quick. All it took was a 5-minute tutorial. Similar to many electric wheelchairs, you push the joystick forward to move forward and accelerate. You push back to brake or move in reverse. Turning left and right will spin you in a circle while pushing forward at an angle will help you turn. That said, while the basics were easy to understand, there is a learning curve. I never quite mastered the turns on Segway’s track, but at least I didn’t crash into anything. Another thing I didn’t expect was how sensitive the joystick was.
If you’ve got a lead finger, you could easily go flying off into the horizon. A light push more than suffices. Even though Segway capped my demo S-Pod at 12km per hour, it felt like I was whizzing down the track at a semi-dangerous speed. It might not look fast on camera, but there were times my eyes bugged out in fear. Segway says that while the max speed will be 38 km/h—which having experienced 12km/h, sounds terrifying—how fast the S-Pod will actually go will depend on local regulations and what they’re being used for.
While the S-Pod feels like it could be an accident waiting to happen—I shudder imagining an army of these scooting down Times Square—Segway told me the company thought long and hard about safety. For example, on turns, the S-Pod will automatically slow down so you don’t flip out of the chair.
There’s also RGB lighting on the back that acts like a blinker, so people will know which way you’re turning. That’s because the target use-case is similar to the original Segway—things like tours and making it easier to traverse longer distances in public areas. (Note: the S-Pod, while probably helpful for folks who can’t walk for long periods of time, is still targeted at able-bodied folks and is not intended to be a replacement for wheelchairs.) All-in-all, I think most people would enjoy scooting around in one of these. Even if it does look a little stupid.