The Segway as a Mobility Aid

Donald M. Spaeth, PhD, RET
Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Pittsburgh PA

Kendra L. Betz, MSPT, ATP
Veterans Health Administration, Seattle, WA


The Segway Personal Transporter and IBOT wheelchair balance on two, side-by-side drive wheels.  These vehicles evolved from gyroscopic stabilization technology developed by inventor Dean Kamen in the late 1990’s.  The IBOT was developed for individuals with disabilities and the Segway for mainstream use.  Although the Segway isn’t neither recommended by the manufacturer nor approved by the FDA as a medical device, there is significant anecdotal evidence the Segway meets the needs of consumers with moderate ambulation impairments.  The non-profit organization, DRAFT, has raised public awareness by donating nearly 100 Segways to recently injured service members through the segs4vets program.  These recipients have lower extremity amputations, mild TBI, burns or other injuries that limit ambulation.  This paper will review the current “off-label” use of the Segway as a mobility aid and propose clinical and engineering research that can lead to legitimacy and establish practice guidelines.


Segway, Powered mobility, Clinical practice, Policy


The Segway Personal Transporter and IBOT electric powered wheelchair use Dean Kamen’s gyro self-leveling technology (1).  These vehicles require only two parallel wheels in contact with the ground.  An onboard computer manages the motor torque to maintain a permanent “wheelie”.  Eliminating casters reduces drag, vastly improves driving on soft or sloped terrain, extends battery range and permits speeds up to 12.5 miles per hour on the Segway and 6.5 miles per hour on the IBOT.  The IBOT 3000 received FDA approval in August, 2003.  An upgraded IBOT 4000 was released by Independence Technology in 2005 (2).  The IBOT initially attracted considerable public attention due to its high tech features such as powered stair climbing and all terrain capabilities.  However, its cost ($25,000+), large bulk (289 pounds) and limited rehab seating offerings have dampened initial enthusiasm.

The Segway is a much smaller vehicle with a step up platform (3).  The rider stands on the platform, grips a vertical tiller and controls the direction and speed of the Segway by leaning.  The Segway was introduced in late 2002 as a personal transportation vehicle for the general public; a novel alternative to bicycles, skates, scooters, buses and walking.  It is also used commercially for walking intensive occupations; e.g. police foot patrols, mail carriers, and warehouse work. 

Segway Corporation has not applied for FDA approval nor does it promote the Segway as assistive technology.  Nevertheless, the nimble little Segway with a third the weight, twice the speed and a fifth the price tag of the IBOT 4000 has been discovered by special needs community.  At the forefront is the non-profit foundation, Disability Rights Advocates for Assistive Technology (DRAFT).  In 2005, DRAFT, through its Segs4VETSs program (4), began distributing Segways to veterans with amputations, mild TBI, burns and/or other service connected injuries that restrict ambulation. .  Only about a dozen Segways were distributed in 2005 and early 2006 but the program has accelerated with over 90 Segways distributed in the past 18 months.  The founders Jerry Kerr and Leonard Timm both have physical disabilities and both personally use Segways in lieu of wheelchairs. 

Internet blogs and legal challenges are also raising public awareness.  In the Community Chat Section on Segway’s website there is a lively subfolder for Special Needs, Mobility and Disabled Use (5).  Both impaired and unimpaired users post messages on using the Segway as a wheelchair or scooter alternative and strategies for obtaining funding.  There are even technical postings on how to modify a Segway for operation from a seated position.  Consumers are also using the courts to advocate for the Segway.  Discrimination lawsuits have been filed against theme parks and retail businesses that permit power wheelchairs under ADA guidelines but exclude Segways.  The General Services Administration (GSA) now recognizes Segways as a mobility aid (6) and permits them in all GSA buildings provided they are driven courteously and no faster than 3 miles per hour.  Clearly, there is an escalating consumer driven movement making an end run around Segway’s marketing policies. 


To date, the Department of Veterans Affairs Prosthetics & Sensory Aids Service has not distributed the Segway as a mobility aid because of its non-medical device status and limited data concerning clinical efficacy.  Only one peer-review journal article has been published.  In 2007, Sawatzky et al (7) conducted a prospective study to determine what level of ambulation impairment precluded use of the Segway transporter.  Their subjects were adults with mobility impairments but still able to walk six or more meters with assistance.  Following clinical evaluation, subjects were provided three training sessions on the Segway.  All 23 subjects recruited were able to master the Segway.  The severity of mobility impairment that precludes using a Segway has yet to be determined.

Government agencies are frequently initiators of enlightened public policy.  The VA as a major provider of rehabilitation services and medical research has an opportunity to shape Segway practice guidelines.


The authors are members of the VA Prosthetics Clinical Management Integrated Product Team for Wheeled Mobility.  In November 2007, we conducted preliminary fact finding at Seg4Vets training and donation ceremonies in San Antonio, Texas.  We interviewed several veterans receiving Segways.  The anecdotal evidence is significant.  Some of the key comments made by veterans:

Clinical Research:  

A logical next step is to conduct a structured research survey of the military personnel who have received a Segway through the Seg4Vets program.  Many have had them for more than a year.

A survey could answer some important clinical questions such as:

  1. Home environment
    1. What are the consumer’s living arrangements and principal daily activities?
    2. What other assistive technology does the consumer’s use and how does the Segway fit in. 
    3. How manageable is the Segway inside a private home?
  2. Transportation
    1. Does the consumer drive an automobile; if so does he integrate the use of his Segway with the automobile?
    2. Can the Segway be loaded into a private automobile; if so how difficult is that to perform?
    3. Can the consumer take his Segway on public transportation where he lives?
  3. Risk
    1. Have there been any adverse events such as falls, collisions or breakdowns that left the consumer stranded? 
    2. Have injuries been incurred; was the incident due to inexperience or is it an ongoing problem?
    3. Reliability issues: range, recharging time, breakdown, maintenance, adequate dealer support?
    4. Has the consumer, family member or friend modified his Segway to better meet his needs; if so what sort of modifications were made and how well do they work?
  4. Community Access
    1. Has the consumer encountered restrictions using the Segway in public buildings?
    2. Has the consumer encountered restrictions using the Segway on sidewalks, bike lanes and in theme parks?
  5. Quality of Life
    1. Has the presence of the Segway impacted the consumer’s physical and psychological health; provide details of changes?
    2. What role has the Segway played in the consumer’s life endeavors such as health care, work, education and access to community social activities?

From these data should emerge a profile of whom will likely benefit from the Segway as well as usage patterns by those with ambulation deficits.  These can also provide evidence for clinical practice guidelines.

Engineering Research:  

The engineering design and product quality of the Segway is encouraging.  A Segway was driven across the United States in 2004 (8).  Owners have modified their Segways for operation from a seated position, which is not currently and option from the manufacturer.  After market modifications are not recommended; in addition to voiding of the warranty, there is not enough engineering history to predict the hazards that may result.  The Segway has not undergone the ANSI/RESNA testing used to certify wheelchairs.  ANSI/RESNA testing conducted through research funding could provide evidence that the Segway power train is robust, durable and able to operate reliably in adverse weather.  A more advanced engineering study could quantify the dynamic stability provided by the gyroscopic technology and what level of perturbation it can tolerate. 


The population of ambulation impaired individuals is growing.  The current technology for assisted ambulation is paltry:  crutches, canes, walkers, and lower extremity braces are stigmatizing, dated and fatiguing to use.  Wheeled mobility with few exceptions imposes a sitting posture.  The Segway offers a notable and substantial alternative.

The adoption of mainstream technology by individuals with special needs has many precedents (computers, adapted automobiles, environmental controls, personal GPS systems and PDA’s).  Due to the economics of scale; mainstream products are often bettered engineered and lower in cost than their orphan counterparts.  As professional rehabilitation technologists and clinicians we are charged with two ethical mandates; first, to provide the best technology available to improve the quality of life of the clients we serves and second, to insure that technology we prescribe is safe, cost affective, reliable and maintainable. 

What makes the Segway/IBOT story intriguing is that consumer awareness and mind-set are running contrary to Independence Technologies’ and Segway’s marketing plans.  The Internet provides an opportune forum for circulating consumer product evaluations, consequently, individuals with disabilities are better informed and more discriminating in their selection of assistive technology. 


The Segway shows promise as a wheeled mobility option for certain populations and deserves professional evaluation.  Although Segway Corporation has no plans to pursue disability markets this should not dissuade us from evaluating its potential.  Mainstream technologies are an initial consideration in the hierarchy of assistive technology recommendation and interventions.  A product will evolve if there is consumer demand, a standard of practice and a funding stream.  Research can expedite these events.


  1. Kamen D, Mechanical Improvements to a Personal Vehicle, US patent #6405816, June 6, 2002
  2. Independence Technology. About the iBOT® Mobility System.  Available at: Accessed January 16, 2008.
  3. Segway Simply Moving, available at accessed on January 16, 2008
  4. Disability Rights Advocates for Assistive Technology (DRAFT), Mobilizing America’s Heros, available at accessed on January 16, 2008
  5. SegwayChat /Segway Forums/Special Needs, Mobility and Disabled Use available at, accessed onJanuary 16, 2008
  6. Interim_Segway_Policy, available at:  Accessed on January 16, 2008
  7. Sawatzky B, Denison I, Shauna L; The Segway Personal Transporter as an Alternative Mobility Device for People With Disabilities: A Pilot Study, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vol 88, 1423-1428, November, 2007.
  8. Hunter Weeks, Josh Caldwell, Ten Miles per Hour, DVD video documentary,  Available at  Accessed on January 16, 2008.


The Department of Veterans Affairs Prosthetics & Sensory Aids Service provides support for this ongoing review of the Segway Personal Transporter. 

Contact Author:

Donald M. Spaeth, PhD
Human Engineering Research Laboratories 151R1
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
7180 Highland Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Voice  412-365-4850
FAX  412-365-4858