The Skep-Tech: Could the Segway explain why Google Glass will never be mainstream?

James O'Malley Features, Skeptech 2 Comments

Back in 2001, a revolutionary new product was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public. Seemingly lightyears ahead of its rivals, the Segway looked set to change how we get around.

segway.png

What was Segway? Essentially, it was a small “electric vehicle” that you stand on and can drive around. It was an unholy chimera of a bike and a mobility scooter for the elderly – with the added benefit that you could be pretty sure that if anyone saw you riding one, they’d think that you were a dick.

Perhaps it was lucky then, that riding one was pretty much impossible because of issues with the law.

In the UK, it was eventually deemed a powered vehicle, so had to obey traffic laws – but it obviously also wasn’t a car, so didn’t meet all of the safety requirements (like having indicators and lights, presumably). As a result, the Segway was de-facto banned in the UK: not legal to drive on either the pavement or the road. Which is why we’re now living in this dystopian, Segway-less present. The device not being able to work with our laws and rules is what killed its success.

Though Segway has found some small success in niche use cases – for example, by security guards on private property, a Segway is not a device that everyone needs.

glass.png

So what about Google Glass? Could this be 2014’s Segway? Could we be about to experience the minefield of problems that afflicted Segway?

Though it has been in development for a few years now it was only released in the UK last week – for £1000. Already cinemas are banning the headsets. The same article also talks of gyms and theatres also enacting official rules about Google Glass.

So I’m wondering if we’ll increasingly see Glass banned or restricted – and if this death-by-regulation could kill off any enthusiasm for Glass in the UK? Why would you bother to pick one up if you couldn’t take it to half of the places you go on a daily basis?

Similarly, perhaps an even more powerful driving factor could be that wearing Glass could soon become a taboo?

The potential downsides of Glass have been talked about at length – and it is not uncommon for anyone talking about Glass to eventually mention the potential creep-factor of not knowing when you’re being filmed and so on. Could this actively dissuade potential buyers? Would you buy Glass if you thought that you might get accusatory glances – or even a smack in the mouth – just by sitting opposite someone on the Tube whilst wearing Glass? (If you do get punched in the mouth, please do upload a first-person Vine.)

There’s an (apocryphal?) story that claims the handshake came about as a means to allow the other person to check for a concealed dagger – and to build trust between men in the middle ages. Could removing Glass on meeting someone become a similar 21st century gesture of respect? And if so, wouldn’t that render Glass meaningless for a great many situations? What would be the point in buying one?

So could Google Glass be heading for the same mainstream fate as Segway? Could rules and regulations – both codified and customary make the product useless to the general public?

Since 2001 Segway has taken off in a few niche use cases (security guards patrolling private property, for example) – could Glass be destined for the same? Don’t be surprised if the only Glassholes left in a few years are surgeons, engineers and other people who can’t really use their hands.

By James O'Malley | June 30th, 2014





  • Gammidgy

    An interesting thought, but there were clearly other factors that held back the Segway. They are legal in other countries, including in Italy (“within city limits wherever pedestrians or bicycles are allowed”), which I visited recently and where they still appear to be a novelty item, used mostly by tourists and tour guides rather than as an everyday conveyance.

  • Gammidgy

    An interesting thought, but there were clearly other factors that held back the Segway. They are legal in other countries, including in Italy (“within city limits wherever pedestrians or bicycles are allowed”), which I visited recently and where they still appear to be a novelty item, used mostly by tourists and tour guides rather than as an everyday conveyance.