Sunday, June 05, 2005

Tech of Disney: The Segway tour of Epcot

Barb surprised me on our recent Disney trip by sending me off on a two hour of Epcot. This was no ordinary tour, mind you, this was the Segway-ridden tour!

Kevin leads the

For $80, you get two hours on the Segway. To me, it was absolutely worth it, and I would experience it again without question. So, what's included and what exactly do get to do on the Segway? Full details after the "Read More" jump.

First things first. In order to take the Segway tour, you must be at least 16 years old. In addition, you must weigh less than 250 pounds. Luckily, I meet both requirements although I've often been accused of acting like a little kid! Next, you basically have to sign away all rights to sue Disney in case of injury. Although it's unlikely you'll get hurt, I can understand the release of liability. After that, you and 11 other riders are taken to the Segway training room near the Epcot Expo Center in the Innovations area of the park. Here is where we met Lamonte, our instructor.

Lamonte had us first grab a bike helmet. Once everyone had their helmet secured, we saw a brief video that outlined some of the simple rules for our tour. Following the video, Lamonte produced actual Segway parts: the ones that matter most. First, we saw the electronic gyroscope. This surprised me because I expected to see a mechanical gyroscope. Instead, the Segway has 5 circuit boards, each the size of a postage stamp. The 5 boards vibrate in different directions and these vibrations are measured 100 times per second! According to Segway: "This small cube, 3 inches on a side, is packed with five solid-state, vibrating-ring, angular-rate sensors ("gyroscopes") that use the Coriolis effect to measure rotation speed. These tiny rings are electromechanically vibrated in such a way that when they are rotated, a small force is generated that can be detected in the internal electronics of the sensor. Each "gyro" is placed at a unique angle that allows it to measure multiple directions. Segway's onboard computers constantly compare the data from all five gyros to determine if any of the five is supplying faulty data--in this condition, it can compensate and use data from the remaining sensors to continue balancing through a controlled safety shutdown."

Lamonte also showed off one of the Segway's two tilt sensors that are constantly monitored by the Balance Sensor Assembly or BSA: "Two tilt sensors filled with an electrolyte fluid provide a gravity reference in the same way your inner ear does for your own sense of balance. The BSA is monitored by two independent microprocessors and is split into two independent halves for redundancy. Even the communication between sides is performed optically to avoid electrical faults on one side propagating to the other."

Once we saw the "inner workings" of the Segway, we learned the concept behind the physics of the unit. This is probably the most important part of the training. Lamonte took a broomstick handle and balanced it on his hand. As it moved to the left, he moved his hand to the left in order to balance the broomstick. In the exercise, the broomstick represented the rider and Lamonte's hand signified the Segway. It's important to note that you must refrain from balancing yourself on a Segway. The trick is: let the Segway do the work!

After the conceptual overviews, it was time for "The Mounting". Again, the trick is not to balance yourself. You simply hold the Segway so that the platform is parallel to the ground, and then step up. Many people did what Lamonte called "The Segway Dance". These folks looked like they were riding a bucking bronco as the Segway kept going back and forth while the rider kept trying to balance themselves! Being the geek that yours truly is, I was able to grasp the concept and step up without any problems. :)

Upon all riders mounted, we practiced going forward and back in our lanes. Forward and backward movement is simply controlled by your body position. Lean forward slightly and the Segway moves forward to compensate for the imbalance. Lean back slightly and you will stop or even reverse direction. After we mastered this task, it was time to turn. On the left hand grip of the Segway is a mechanism that controls your turning. If you rotate your grip forward, you turn left. If you rotate it backward you turn right. You can turn without leaning, in which case you literally turn in place!

To test our skills, a course was set up with cones. We practiced our turns and then navigated up and down a handicapped accessible ramp. After a total of 45 minutes training time, we left the building feeling confident. That feeling only lasted 2 minutes as one of my classmates promptly ran over some of the beautiful flowers along the walkway at Epcot!

Once everyone was back on track, we spent the next hour or so "transporting" ourselves through all of the countries at Epcot. We became instant celebrities as "walkers" would wave or shout out as we rolled by. An hour later, we regained our starting point having hit all of the countries on our guided tour. I really didn't want to get off of the Segway but my time was up. Lamonte provided each of us with a commemorative Segway pin and said goodbye. My trusty steed was plugged into the wall as I sadly waved to it.

Would I recommend the tour? Yes, without reservation. In fact, I would consider a repeat of the tour. It was that good of an experience. If you have any specific questions on either the Segway or the tour, just post a comment and I'll give you my thoughts.

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