Thursday, September 14, 2006

Segway recalls scooters for injury risk

By MICHAEL P. REGAN, AP Business Writer

Segway Inc. is recalling all 23,500 of the self-balancing scooters it has shipped to date because of a software glitch that can make its wheels unexpectedly reverse direction, causing riders to fall off.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is cooperating with Segway on the voluntary recall announced Thursday, said consumers should stop using the vehicles immediately.

Segway has received six reports of problems with the Personal Transporter, resulting in head and wrist injuries. The vehicles were previously known as the Human Transporter.

Segway is offering a free software upgrade that will fix the problem. The upgrades will be done at Segway's 100 dealerships and service centers around the world, according to Segway spokeswoman Carla Vallone, and the company based in Bedford, N.H., will pay to ship the devices to the appropriate center if need be.

It is the second time the scooters, which sell for about $4,000 to $5,500, have been recalled since they first went on sale in 2002. The 2003 recall involved the first 6,000 of the devices sold, and involved a problem that could cause riders to fall off the device when its battery ran out of juice.

Segway Chief Technology Officer Doug Field, who has been involved with the development of the device since its earliest days, said the problem that sparked the latest recall was found while the company was testing its new model. He said a very unusual and specific set of conditions can cause the problem.

The scooter's speed is determined by how far forward the user leans, and if the rider leans too far forward, a "speed limiter" pushes them back to keep the device at its maximum speed of 12.5 mph. The problem happens after the speed limiter tilts back, the rider steps off the device and then gets back on it quickly.

Field said the actions that would cause the problem are of "very low probability, but possible, which then made us go pull every reported accident in the company's history." After the company found the six incidents believed to be related to the problem, it notified the CPSC and got the ball rolling on the recall, Field said.

Field and Segway Chief Executive Jim Norrod would not comment on whether the problem has sparked any lawsuits, and would not give any details of the injuries sustained.

"Any injury is too much to us," said Norrod.

The most famous tumble from a Segway came in 2003, when President Bush tried one out at his family's estate in Maine. The device went down on his first attempt, but Bush stayed on his feet with an awkward hop over the scooter. He quickly got back onboard and was soon cruising around the driveway on the Segway.


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