Foundation offers to sell Segways off eBay

The mysterious AI Foundation offers to sell five Human Transporters at prices ranging from $49,000 to $89,000 in an e-mail sent to bidders after its auction had been cancelled.

5 min read
The mysterious foundation whose auctions for two Segway Human Transporters were cancelled on eBay is now offering to sell the scooters to interested parties for a fixed price.

In an e-mail sent to bidders Thursday night after the auction was cancelled, the AI Foundation offered to sell its five HTs at prices ranging from $49,000 to $89,000. The foundation also offered to pay the way to Atlanta for those interested in purchasing one of the devices.

"To our disappointment, our auctions have been removed from eBay. Nevertheless, we still have the five Segway HT commercial units available," the organization said in its e-mail to bidders. "We only ask that you sign a purchase contract and confidentiality agreement.

"Please let us know if you are interested."

Foundation spokeswoman Crystal Chibe said the foundation would pay for customers to come to Atlanta to see and test out the HTs even if they hadn't committed to buying them. The offer to pay for bidders' transportation is part of an effort to build trust between the foundation and bidders after eBay cancelled the auction, she said.

"This is a way to legitimize (the sale)," she said. "There's a lot of trust involved in this whole thing."

But at Segway and among some potential buyers, there was still some doubt as to whether the foundation actually has the Segways in its possession. Segway has tried to contact Collin Mallory, the foundation's founder, to confirm that the organization has the units, but it hasn't been able to do so, said Tobe Cohen, Segway's director of marketing.

"I would be concerned that, according to all of my best information, there are not five units out there for sale to anyone but our strategic customers," he said.

Mallory was not available for comment on either Thursday or Friday.

The AI Foundation listed two HT scooters on eBay, starting one on Monday with an opening price of $89,000 and another on Tuesday with an opening price of $1. Although the first auction didn't receive any bids, eBay members placed at least 28 bids on the second auction, boosting its price to more than $14,000 by the time eBay shut down the auctions.

eBay cancelled the Segway HT auctions after representatives from Segway expressed their doubts about the auctions' legitimacy. Segway did not ask eBay to end the auctions and has not heard back from the company since it cancelled the auctions, Cohen said.

"My understanding is eBay investigated it and removed the listing."

eBay representatives did not return repeated calls seeking comment on whether the company investigated the auctions before canceling them and on what the results of the company's investigation were.

The foundation is offering to sell the HTs to people who had contacted the organization, Chibe said. The e-mail one of the bidders received had listed more than 30 e-mail addresses as recipients.

The different prices on the scooters reflect the differing degrees to which they have been customized, Chibe said. For instance, one of the devices may have a gold-plated emblem of the AI Foundation on it, while another would have a silver- or bronze-plated one, she said. The foundation might also customize the firmware installed on the HTs, Chibe said.

"I know that people have worked on changing some of the firmware in the Segways," she said.

Chibe declined to say from whom the foundation received the HTs, but the e-mail sent to potential buyers says they "were donated to us by strategic, key corporations involved in the manufacture and design of the units." Segway knows from whom the AI Foundation received the scooters, Chibe said.

"I don't know their agenda," she said.

The photograph used on the eBay auction appeared to be of a standard consumer model HT. Chibe declined to send a photograph of the HTs the foundation has in its possession, saying that the foundation feared that one of the reasons why the auctions were cancelled was because of the customizations it had done.

"We don't want the Segway people to go crazy over this whole thing," she said. "We don't want this to become more difficult than it already has been for us."

Against the rules?
The foundation's effort to sell the scooters off of eBay after initially listing them on the auction site appear to violate one of eBay's rules. In general, the company frowns upon sellers who attempt to circumvent its fees and rules by offering to sell off of eBay products that originally appeared on eBay's system to bidders they meet through eBay. The company threatens to suspend sellers who violate its fee-circumvention rules.

The foundation doesn't feel it is violating eBay's rules, Chibe said. eBay itself cancelled the auctions, and the bidders contacted the foundation after the auction was ended to express their continued interest, she said.

"We didn't cancel the item, and we didn't utilize member contact information from eBay," Chibe said. "So there's no circumventing of eBay's fees."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment on whether the AI Foundation was violating its rules by offering the scooters off eBay.

Meanwhile, one of the former bidders who received the e-mail said the offer from the foundation was unsolicited. After receiving the e-mail, New Jersey resident John Zuccarino called up the foundation to make an offer. Zuccarino sent the foundation a fax of a contract, in which he promised to pay the foundation next week on the condition that he take possession of his scooter at the same time. The foundation had previously said it would hand over the HTs at a presentation at its Atlanta headquarters in July.

By Friday afternoon, Zuccarino hadn't heard back from the foundation, despite repeated phone calls and despite telling the organization that he needed to hear back right away so he could make travel arrangements. Along with some "inconsistencies" he said he found, the delay made him question whether the organization actually has the devices.

"Unless I get a machine, I'd tell (other potential buyers) to back off," Zuccarino said. "It's like poker, we're bluffing here--and I'm calling their bluff."