In today’s budget-slashing economy, agencies should be constantly looking for force multipliers that can reasonably increase the presence and mobility of officers at a reduced buy-in cost. Certainly, adding more officers is a solution, but when you consider the cost of training, many agencies simply can’t afford to hire anyone. Therefore, they must make do with who they have and find ways to make those officers more efficient, visible and productive without breaking the bank.
One strategy is to amplify the capability of the officer who’s assigned to a patrol sector that requires walking or limited vehicle use. These environments are usually urban, with significant congestion, pedestrians, sidewalks and narrow streets. Long-standing options include bicycles, horses and motorcycles. More recently, electric-assisted mobility devices, such as the Segway, have entered the market. Although the Segway has been around for a few years, the company has just recently become more focused on maximizing the platform for law enforcement.
The result is the redesigned Segway Patroller. Brian Lamacchia, owner of the Segway distributorship in Scottsdale, Ariz., was gracious enough to show me the new model, allow me to ride it around and discuss new additions that make the Patroller ready for patrol duty.
How’s It Work?
At first glance, the Segway seems to defy gravity. After all, you have to wonder why anyone wouldn’t just plant their face on the pavement the first time they stood on the platform located between the drive wheels. Lamacchia says the distinctive design of the Segway makes it an excellent PR tool for agencies because people want to ask questions about how it works. Because I was going to put myself at the helm of one, understanding the physics behind a Segway was priority No. 1.
According to Segway, the ability to balance on its own is the most amazing thing about the device and key to its operation. To understand how the system works, Segway uses the human body as the basis for its design. For example, if you stand up and lean forward, your brain knows you’re out of balance because fluid in your inner ear shifts. Your brain responds by triggering your leg muscles to move forward and stop the fall. If you keep leaning forward, your brain will keep putting your legs forward to keep you upright. Instead of falling, you’ll walk forward, one step at a time.
The Segway does pretty much the same thing, except it has wheels instead of legs, a motor instead of muscles, a collection of microprocessors instead of a brain and a set of sophisticated tilt sensors instead of an inner-ear balancing system. Like your brain, the Segway knows when you’re leaning forward. To maintain balance, it turns the wheels at just the right speed, so you move forward. Segway calls this behavior “dynamic stabilization” and has patented the process that allows the vehicle to balance on two wheels.
The Brawn Behind the Brain
The Segway operates through a combination of sensors, a control system and a motor system. The primary sensor system is an assembly of gyroscopes. A basic gyroscope is a spinning wheel inside a stable frame. By measuring the position of the gyroscope’s spinning wheel relative to the frame, a precise sensor can tell the pitch of an object (how much it’s tilting away from an upright position), as well as its pitch rate (how quickly it’s tilting).
A conventional gyroscope would be cumbersome and difficult to maintain in this sort of vehicle, so Segway uses a solid-state, angular-rate sensor made of silicon. Units have five gyroscopic sensors, although they require only three to detect forward and backward pitch, as well as leaning to the left or right—called roll. The extra sensors make the vehicle more reliable. All of the tilt information is passed on to the “brain” of the vehicle, which is made up of two electronic controller circuit boards, comprising a cluster of microprocessors. Taken together, onboard microprocessors boast about three times the power of a typical PC to keep the vehicle from falling over. If one board breaks down, the other will take over all functions, notify the rider of a failure and shut down gracefully.
The microprocessors run an advanced piece of software that controls the vehicle. This program monitors all the stability information coming from the gyroscopic sensors and adjusts the speed of several electric motors in response to this information. The electric motors, which are powered by a pair of lithium-ion batteries, can turn each of the wheels independently at variable speeds. When the vehicle leans forward, the motors spin both wheels forward to keep from tilting over. When the vehicle leans backward, the motors spin both wheels backward. When the rider wants to turn left or right, the motors spin one wheel faster than the other, or spin the wheels in opposite directions so the vehicle rotates.
One change in the Patroller over original models is the way in which the rider can input directional changes. In the past, the rider relied on a throttle of sorts, which was mounted on the right side of the handlebar assembly. This meant the rider had to maintain contact with the handlebar to maintain steering control. The introduction of “LeanSteer” solved that. In essence, the entire upright frame section of the Segway is movable. Lean the bar left, and the Segway turns left. Lean it right, and the Segway steers right. Lamacchia says that officers using the new system can actually steer it with their thighs, allowing them to keep both hands free to address a situation or even lean forward to open a door.
The Patroller features some other new technologies that make it simple and secure to operate. Each unit comes standard with a wireless InfoKey controller that is programmed to start and lock a specific Segway. The InfoKey can be placed on the Segway or removed and taken with you. For law enforcement use, a wrist-mounted InfoKey is provided to make it simple to quickly turn the Segway on and off when an officer has to hop off quickly or place the Segway out of service for a period of time.
When locked, the Segway relies on a sophisticated anti-theft system to ensure your vehicle is still there on your return. If anyone attempts to tamper with it, the system will activate an audible alarm, begin vibrating the unit, lock the wheels and send an alert to your wrist-mounted InfoKey.
The Patroller, like all Segways, runs on twin lithium-ion batteries that provide green operation that can propel a Segway for up to 24 miles on one charge. The unit plugs into a standard wall outlet for recharging, and Segway says that for every mile you want to travel, figure about 15 minutes of charge time.
Features of the New Patroller Model
Lamacchia says the biggest change to the new model is that the angle of the vertical frame has been reversed. Whereas other models have the handlebars in front of the frame, the neck of the Patroller is angled toward the operator, bringing the handlebars closer. This also allows for the Patroller Bag—a nylon zippered bag which can carry paperwork, a water bottle and other items—to be mounted on the inside of the frame. This change allowed Segway to add large reflective shields, available in either white or optic yellow, along the frame to increase visibility. A new upper reflective shield enhances visibility even more, and Segway has integrated red and blue LED lights into the top of the frame for emergency lighting. A new front bumper is mounted to the top of the Patroller frame, allowing the unit to be placed on its nose without damage. The frame is also height adjustable.
Lower cargo frames are installed over the wheel assemblies to allow for the mounting of other storage options, and they also double as handles to lift the Segway if needed. Rubberized mats and a removable LED taillight complete the package.
The Patroller is available in two models, the x2 and the i2. The x2 is an off-road model that features an 8" wheel outfitted with extra large knobby tires. It weighs about 120 lbs. and has a range of approximately 12 miles. The i2 is the road-going version with a 19" wheel outfitted with low-profile tires, and weighs a little less at 105 lbs. Its range is about 24 miles. Both models feature a top speed of approximately 12.5 mph, although the beginner mode restricts speed to about half that.
Why a Segway?
Lamacchia says the Segway Patroller has numerous advantages over other options. First, it’s very maneuverable and can literally turn around in its own space. Second, the higher vantage point it offers allows officers to get an excellent view of congested areas. Third, its speed and range make it an excellent and practical force multiplier; officers can get around quickly and across longer distances without tiring. Other advantages: The size of the Patroller allows it to be placed just about anywhere, and the new markings make for a much more visible presence.
Lamacchia told me one agency is considering using the Patroller for DUI enforcement, having officers ride on sidewalks and in parking garages near popular bars to discourage people from drinking and driving. He says, “If they see an officer on a Segway in a parking garage, they’ll hopefully think twice about driving drunk.”
Finally, at $6,000–7,000 per unit, depending on options, the Patroller is a reasonably priced option.
Operating the New Patroller
Lamacchia fired up the new Patroller and had me hop on. When first turned on, the Segway goes through a self-check mode before a green balance indicator lights up. The unit also features two modes, with the beginner mode slowing directional inputs and capping top speed. Wisely, Lamacchia chose that mode for my first foray.
Once I hopped on, the sensation was, well, cool. The Segway is always “in gear” unless it’s turned off, so while I was standing on it, the system’s multiple gyroscopes were doing their thing to keep me from falling on my bean. As I began to pilot the Patroller around, it felt stable and responded intuitively to my inputs. Subtle weight shifts and slight leaning on the LeanSteer frame resulted in immediate, smooth changes in motion. As I motored around for a few minutes, I never felt unstable or out of control.
What happens if an officer has to jump quickly off of a Segway while it’s in motion? Lamacchia showed me switches that are integrated into the platform that can immediately sense if the rider bails while the unit is still moving. If this happens, it will immediately slow down, travel approximately four feet forward, then fall on its nose and stop.
Lamacchia told me a story of an officer who apprehended a suspect during a chase in which he jumped off his Segway and tackled the individual. The Segway came to a quick and immediate stop, and placed itself on its nose as designed. When an officer simply wants to park his Patroller, a front-mounted kickstand is provided, or the officer can simply lean the Segway toward a wall and allow the system’s drive motors to apply gentle forward pressure. Pretty trick.
The Segway Patroller is a great force multiplier. Although it has a learning curve like any apparatus, I can definitely see a place for it in the matrix of patrol options for those agencies seeking an effective patrol tool at a reasonable price. For more information, contact Segway at 866/4SEGWAY or visit www.segway.com.