The tortured and ludicrous history of Segway ends with its acquisition by a Chinese imitator

Kevin James arrives on a Segway to the premiere of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”
Kevin James arrives on a Segway to the premiere of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”
Image: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
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Segway, the New Hampshire-based maker of two-wheeled personal transporters that were once hyped as an invention more important than the internet, has been sold to the Chinese start-up Ninebot for an undisclosed sum. The deal comes less than a year after Segway sued Ninebot and a handful of other competitors for patent infringement.

Ninebot also announced that it secured $80 million in funding from a group of tech investors that includes Xiaomi, the Chinese technology firm that makes wildly popular smartphones and is branching out into a range of consumer electronic devices. Xiaomi, like Ninebot, has been accused by Western competitors of selling copycat products, but this week it complained that its own products are being copied by Chinese imitators.

Since its highly touted 2001 debut, Segway has failed to make many inroads into the mainstream. Its products—and its many imitators—are now most often seen being used by tourists, mall security guards, and airport cops—and used as comic shorthand for privileged dorks, as on the sitcom Arrested Development.

Companies like Honda have also tried their hand at low-speed vehicles that might free people from the tyranny of walking. Here’s Quartz’s Dan Frommer giving the Honda Unicub prototype a test-drive last year:

Ninebot also makes a unicycle, the Ninebot One:

Segway has been sold twice before, most recently in 2013 to Summit Strategic Investments. In 2010, it was sold to a company backed by wealthy British entrepreneur Jimi Heselden, who tragically died later that year after the Segway he was riding toppled off a cliff in West Yorkshire.