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Segway, Amazon ignite bidding frenzy

The companies have kicked off an auction for three Human Transporters. By Tuesday afternoon, the bidding had already topped $30,000. And the auction is running through March.

A consumer version of the Segway Human Transporter, the scooter formerly known as Ginger, won't be available until the fourth quarter, but that isn't stopping bidders from being carried away by the device.

Online retailer Amazon.com and Segway kicked off an auction Tuesday for three Human Transporters. The HTs are two-wheeled, self-balancing, electric-powered devices that riders stand on to be propelled from place to place.

Bids for the HTs topped $30,000 on Tuesday afternoon. The auction, which started Tuesday, will run until March 28.

Proceeds of the auction will go to FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization founded by Kamen. The organization says its mission is to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in children, their schools and communities.

The HT, formerly known as Ginger and IT, garnered tremendous hype when details of the device leaked out through a book proposal and patent application in January 2001. The attention grew when Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos were said to be impressed by the device.

Postings to fan sites and frenzied speculation crescendoed until December 2001, when the company finally unveiled the scooter and started allowing some people to take it out for a test drive.

The hype was fed by the secrecy that inventor and Segway Chief Executive Dean Kamen attached to the HT. Kamen, who said he was concerned that automotive companies might try to prevent the development of the device, would not comment on the device before its release.

Some dismissed the company's secrecy as a publicity gimmick, but the company has still managed to garner interest from well-connected backers. Venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston have each invested $38 million in Segway.

Kamen will present the HTs to the winning bidders April 25 at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center during a FIRST event. The HTs will be customized limited editions with the winning bidder's name and Dean Kamen's laser-etched signature engraved on the device.

Segway expects to introduce a consumer model HT for around $3,000 by the fourth quarter of 2002.

The 80-pound HT can go as fast as 12.5 miles per hour and can travel up to 17 miles on a charge. The device can also turn on a dime.

The two-wheeled HT uses a number of gyroscopes and computers to mimic the human body's sense of balance, making it impossible for the device to fall over when being ridden, according to company representatives.

Kamen also developed the first insulin pump; a briefcase-size dialysis machine; and a wheelchair, the iBot, which can climb stairs. The HT uses "dynamic balancing" technologies similar to those used in the iBot.