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Bidding for Segway HT tops $100,000

The auction doesn't end until March 28, but the frenzy hasn't let up for the Segway Human Transporter. The real winner will end up being inventor Dean Kamen's nonprofit organization.

How much are some people willing to pay for the opportunity to be among the first to own a Segway Human Transporter? So far, more than $100,000.

While a consumer version of the Human Transporter--a two-wheeled, battery-powered transportation device--won't be available until the fourth quarter, Segway has joined with online retailer Amazon.com to auction three custom HTs to benefit a charity.

The first bid Tuesday started at just $1.75, according to Amazon, but the top bid for one of the machines topped $106,000 Friday morning. Bids for the other two HTs ranged between about $85,000 and $91,000 Friday. The auction ends March 28.

The first day of the auction saw a record 400 bids, according to Amazon.

That there is so much interest in the once top-secret HT is not surprising.

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 Segway 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.

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Melissa Francis, correspondent, CNET
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.

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 Kamen's laser-etched signature engraved on the device.

Segway expects to introduce a consumer HT for around $3,000 by the fourth quarter of this year. Commercial versions of the HT could begin shipping to corporate partners, such as the U.S. Postal Service and Amazon.com, by the end of the first quarter.

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, that can climb stairs. The HT uses "dynamic balancing" technologies similar to those used in the iBot.