Combine rising fuel costs with escalating security concerns in China, and this makes perfect sense -- kind of: ahead of the Olympics, a Chinese anti-terror team has recently been training on specially-outfitted Segways, the electric, gyro-balanced scooters that are more commonly seen zipping across Silicon Valley campuses.
The scooters, which claim a top speed of 12.5 km/hour and which inventor Dean Kamen billed as nearly impossible to tip-over (George W. didn't get that memo) will also be used by officials and security personnel around the main stadium, the partially solar powered Bird's Nest, come the "Green" Olympics in August. (Segways are still uncommon in China, where they cost $10,000 -- double the cost in the U.S. due to import duties.)We might think that any self-respecting soldier wouldn't belong atop a pogo-like scooter, but putting police and military on Segways has actually been part of the company's vision since it launched, and it now counts all four branches of the US military as clients (see its police and government website, this law enforcement version and an application for military robots). Consider that the Segway is much more agile, efficient and cleaner than a car, and allows hands-free operation (for shooting your gun) in a way a bike doesn't. There is also the shock value: seeing a cop on a Segway is likely to give brief pause to even the most hardened troublemaker.
But is putting cops on these rich nerd toys, which once promised to make the car obsolete, really a good idea? If the Segways are replacing patrol cars, yes. And perhaps this will be a good way to promote the battery-powered scooters as an alternative among China's future car buyers, something of which Jackie Chan, budding Segway dealer, would approve. But when it comes to chasing terrorists, it's not clear that the costly Segway promises much of an advantage over, say, good old fashioned feet. And when you're firing a gun, it seems better to be standing on the ground rather than a gyroscopically-balanced scooter that makes adjustments 100 times per second.
At the very least, it's a lot harder to call gun-toting Segway riders dorky -- at least to their faces.