Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Minister Takenaka talked about the special regulatory zones in Japan to stimulate new business. The Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry created a special law to allow local governments together with companies to file for regulatory waivers to help promote new businesses. We filed for two. One was a waiver to allow us to use higher power 802.11 base stations to try to create community networks.

We also filed for a waiver to permit Segway's to be used on sidewalks in Makuhari, Disneyland area and Narita Airport. Everyone's pretty excited about this. We're talking to Segway, but nothing is decided yet. We're hoping to get them to come to Tokyo to meet Governor Domoto in March...


Go Japan! While American cities wrestle with figuring out wheter to ban Segways on city sidewalks (boo San Francisco and Santa Cruz, CA for doing so!) I'm glad to hear that others around the world are more open to clean/efficient transport. Honestly, I'm not sure what's with the people in the Bay Area, but it really gets to me that a place that is known for being on the forefront of environmentalism and technology is so squeamish about bringing a form of transportation that would eliminate congestion, pollution, the need for parking, improve quality of life, allow for more open spaces rather than parking lots, etc. I'm glad to hear that Japan is at least willing to give the Segway a chance.

Dean Kamen is pretentious, highly egotistical and aggressive. He's a genius, no doubt, but his abbrasiveness doesn't fly too well when he leaves the confines of his self styled world/compound in New Hampshire.

He sent lackeys who swaggered over to the Bay Area, looked down upon the locals, and insulted local politicians in the process. Dean Kamen denies his employees basic human needs, but he ought to recognize that there's a big world full of people who won't put up with his BS if he really wants to conquer it.

The Segway is good in that it gives lip service to the undeniable need for alternative forms transporation/energy. But it's a stop gap solution that may not warrant the changes needed to accomodate it. And does it really make sense to unleash such speedy vehicles on our sidewalks?

Mike, I've met Dean once, but don't know him or the company well enough to judge if you're right. However, the person I'm talking to right now at Segway is great.

The thing only goes about 20km. I can run that fast... Also, it might not make sense for every sidewalk, but I think zooming between terminals in Narita, zooming from the station to Disneyland and cruising from the station to the Makuhari convention center all seem like pretty good applications. Basically taxi distances and not really situations where you're looking for your day's workout. I also love that they use a NiMH battery which I am very fond of because it is part of the Hydrogen Loop.

Joi, has there been much discussion about opening Segway-only sidewalks? In this ever-expanding city of millions, even walking individuals collide one too many times -- something i sure wouldn't want to see happen between Segways, let alone between a Segway and a walker. At 43kg (assuming the e-model), and going not the full speed of 15kph, I would think that's a pretty hefty *ouch*. Here's a link with an interesting take on it.

Thanks for that link Matt. very interesting. most folks probably haven't considered stopping distance and such. while there are many rural areas in Japan where Segway may make sense, I can't see it being used to great extent in a Japanese city for a few reasons:
1. folks ride their inexpensive 10+ year old bicycles to work every day (in suits and skirts).
2. people don't like to draw attention to themselves
3. no place to park them.. would need to leave on the sidewalk due to no space in the cramped office (rain/cold effects?)

will be an interesting debate in Japan.

I am interested in the Segways, but my neighbors in a small rural community are more interested in your idea for the "waiver to allow us to use higher power 802.11 base stations to try to create community networks" The best we can get now is ISDN. I have read about some places in the States, but I can't see it happening easily here without what you are talking about. If you looking for sites we would be interested.

I have mixed feelings about your 802.11b idea. I have always thought that the best way to extend range on 802.11b systems was to use gain antennas..

Higher power on the access point part of an access point to client link will be of limited utility unless the client machines also get increased power.. Perhaps your waiver should be only for point to point links.. Then it would clearly be useful..

We are looking at gain antennas. The problem is that Japanese power limit is lower than the US and the power limit is the main thing we need to get waived in order to use some of the great antennas coming out of the US...

Still on the matter of 802.11 base stations to create community networks, I just thought you might be interest in a pilot that is being carried out in Adelaide, Australia. It aims to provide wireless coverage throughout the city.

"The multi-cell network, called streetwise, will involve more than 70 WiFi access points attached to traffic lights and other infrastructure."

I can't wait to get to japan. You can imagine with the work done in robotics, that Japan could have easily been the place where Segways were invented and popularized. But no, like canada, things suck unless they're popular somewhere else first. And it is fitting that Segways are becoming popular here just as they're coming under criticism in America. And I thought "Big in Japan" only referred to rock bands on their last legs.

I touch down in Narita Feb 1... wonder if I can get run over by a Segway on the trarmac?


Why can't you ride Segways in Japan? What law is it against? I ride a motorcycle, and I can't even find a clear explanation of what the laws for those are (and I've bought all the Japanese and English language books on motor laws sold at the motor vehicles office, as well as asked questions of the police).

If it's just verbal "guidance" that you can't ride them, then why not just ignore it? What are they going to do?--give you a ticket? Invite the media to the court hearing if they do.

Motorized bicycles are driven on the sidewalks. Hell, regular bicycles on the sidewalks are a hazard, with no speed limits. Bicycles have to ride in the street in California.

Joi, you forget that the first internet ISP in Japan was illegal according to verbal guidance from the Postal Ministry because they supposedly didn't have the proper class of telecommunications license, but the company ignored it, and the government didn't want a high-profile fight on their hands, so eventually they clarified the rules. This kind of gaiatsu is what makes Japan work. Go for it! Ride your Segway.

They can actually arrest you for a bunch of things and give you a ticket as well. The ISP thing was different. It wasn't REALLY illegal. Japan's laws regarding physical safety are much more strict and much more strictly enforced.

See my comment here.

Having said that, SOMEONE should try it. Just not me, since it won't help in my efforts to change the law. I think a lot of publicity and people wanting it is a good thing. Use inside of closed places like Disneyland or the airport can prove the safety, etc.

Let me just say that the practicality of the Segway is much more obvious when considering it for Japan than for America. In America I am always driving my car to get to places. I do have a bicycle but I rarely use it. Unless I want to exercise the bicycle does not get me to places as easy as the car does.

However, when I went to Japan I ended up doing a lot of walking and bicycling. And for a fat lazy American that was a lot of exercise. I went to Japan to visit my wifes family in Osaka. Now in the community that her parents lived in the roads were narrow like alley ways in America. Cars, motocyclist and pedestrians traveled through these roads. To an American like me these roads seemed dangerous, particlarly when there is an open ditch that is used for drainage in which goes along each side of the road.

Now when we wanted to go places we first had to walk to the nearest train, unless you can shell out some cash for a taxi to pick you up. Now in the community there was a large elderly population. Some used bicycles, lots of electric bicycles, not 10 year old ones either. Others would not go anywhere and looked like they were slaves to their homes. Gorceries and everything else basically delivered to them to their door. And family members will once a in a while come around to check on them to see if they are still alive.

I can imagine the Segway giving these elderly people much more mobility. I can imagine the Segway being 10 times more useful in Japan than in America. In America I drive to get groceries, I drive 45 minutes to get to work, I drive to go out for fun. In America I drive period. I also spend only about $1.70 per gallon and pay very little tax registration for my car per year compared to Japan. Plus everywhere I go there is free and available parking. Well, unless I travel to downtown San Francisco. Which is probably once or twice a year. I like most Americans live and work in the suburbs.

Well, when all is said and done I think that the Segway in America will be a curiousity and used primarily for enjoyment purposes. However, I think the Segway will have the greatest impact on many Asian and European cities. Where much of the city planning was done before the invintion of the automobile and was primarily focused for pedestrian use.