Back to the Future hoverboards are finally becoming mainstream thanks to a Chinese company
Ninebot is the company that bought Segway and took them to the mainstream. The company is now selling self-balancing scooters, unicycles, hover skates, and even robots. It is also one of the main suppliers behind the US scooter craze.
Segway used to be hailed as the future of transportation. That was until they started to be associated with airport police and overweight tourists and became a bit of a joke. The bad PR continued when one of the company’s owners died… after riding his Segway off a cliff.
Hoverboards had the same boom-bust cycle too, becoming a viral hardware hit… and then a menace, after a string of complaints of broken bones, chipped teeth, and exploding batteries. (There’s a reason every airline asks you not to carry those batteries on board planes.)
These days, however, Beijing-based Ninebot, which bought Segway in 2015, is trying to change the bad reputation of so-called personal transporters. And it seems to be doing a pretty good job – people riding self-balancing scooters can now be seen all over China.
The trend has grown so much that online commentators started claiming we are entering the process of “cabbagification” -- tech products that were once expensive and advanced have become as widespread as, uh, cabbage. The term became popular after a video of a farmer driving a Ninebot self-balancing scooter through rural China became viral in the country at the beginning of 2018.
Ninebot's success at home came after it started selling its Ninebot Mini self-balancing scooter with smartphone maker Xiaomi, which owns a stake in the company.
Now, the company is winning over the US -- though you might not realise it. You know those shared scooters from Lime and Bird that have taken over American cities? Most are made by Ninebot.
All of these are based on gyroscopic balancing – a technology that’s been around since ancient times and which Ninebot CEO Gao Lufeng believes will completely replace bicycles.
Much like hoverboards before it, Ninebot’s products have not been without its controversies.
And then there’s how Ninebot got into the business to begin with. Now that the company owns Segway’s technology, its design pedigree is assured. But the purchase only came after years of legal battles, where the American company accused Ninebot of ripping off its designs.
Ninebot is also involved in another lawsuit against electric unicycle maker Solowheel over the design of its electric skates, according to Bloomberg. But the company seems undeterred. In fact, they are already going into robotics and developing self-driving robots for China's food delivery king Meituan Dianping -- another step in Ninebot’s mission to turn scooters into cabbage.