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Meet the Segway Robot: An R2-D2 you can ride

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Segway Ninebot is thinking ahead. Way ahead. Having forged a technology partnership with Intel, the e-scooter company is developing a new robotic version of its Ninebot Mini Pro – the Segway Robot.

Personal transportation devices don’t get much better than a bike or a scooter. but that doesn’t stop enterprising minds from trying to create new ones. It’s this kind of thinking that brought us the Sinclair C5, the original Segway, self-balancing AirWheel unicycles and those hoverboards (that don’t actually hover).

The Ninebot Mini Pro is the smallest of Segway’s two-wheelers. Released in November 2015, it’s a compact version of the Segway PT unveiled in 2001. You lean forward to move forward, lean left to turn left. Powered by a rechargeable battery and an 800W direct-drive dual motor, you can ride one for 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) at speeds up to 18 km/h (11 mph).

A Segway Robot isn’t much of a leap. The Ninebot Mini already self-balances — multiple sensors detect your movement and adjust the Mini’s orientation over 200 times per second. It can also be remote-controlled and monitored via Bluetooth and a smartphone app.

The Ninebot Mini also has the capacity to learn. An “intelligent self-learning algorithm tracks your riding data and automatically analyzes and adjusts control parameters by virtue of multiple embedded sensors for weight, gestures, speed, temperatures, and current.”

Revealed at CES 2016 by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, the Segway Robot keeps the Mini Pro’s familiar shape. But instead of its foot control pad (which helps keep your legs together while riding), the robo version incorporates a pop up ‘head’ that incorporates a range of clever technologies.

The ninebot mini pro PT
The Segway Robot is an enhanced version of the Ninebot Mini Pro.

This head not only incorporates a display, but an Intel RealSense package that consists of a depth-sensing RGB-D camera, fisheye tracking camera and a photo camera. These vision systems, along with the processing muscle of an Intel Atom chip, enable the Segway Robot to recognise, map and navigate its surroundings.

If that was all it could do, the Segway Robot would be little more than an expensive toy. But using an Open SDK on Android platform opens up a wealth of possibilities for app developers, while extra hardware can be added — Segway added a set of arms, for example, during the Intel CES keynote, and a microphone allows you to control the robot with voice commands.

Built-in wireless connectivity will also allow the Segway Robot to connect and interact with other smart home devices in the future. Who needs a security camera in every room when you can have a self-balancing, auto-navigating robot that can patrol your house when you’re out and take photos/videos of any disturbances?

What else could it do? You only have to look at other robotic companion/assistant projects to see some of the possibilities. Jibo can take photos and handle video calls, take messages and schedule reminders. The Amazon Echo can play music, search the web, read your calendar, even order you an Uber taxi.

The Segway Robot is an intriguing blend of personal transport device and robotic helper. An R2-D2 you can ride. Follow its progress at robot.segway.com.

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