A Chinese startup announced that it acquired the former “future of transportation” yesterday with the purchase of the company responsible for the technological marvel of the early 2000s—the Segway.
Ninebot, a Chinese transportation robotics firm, purchased the American maker of the world’s most recognizable self-balancing scooters for an undisclosed sum. This directly followed a combined $80 million investment into Ninebot from Chinese smartphone giant Xiaomi, investment firm Sequoia Capital and other backers, according to Reuters.
For the two companies, this is something of a reversal, as not seven months ago Segway filed a complaint against Ninebot, accusing the company of violating its patents and copying the company’s signature two-wheeler. Ninebot responded that it independently owns its intellectual property. Now it owns Segway’s too.
Segway has not yet managed to revolutionize the transportation industry as founder Dean Kaman had hoped when he boasted that his creation “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.” Instead, in America it has mostly just caught on with mall cops and has been ridiculed as one of the worst inventions of the 21st century.
But, who’s to say that it won’t catch on in China? Already, Chinese police can be seen cruising around on Segway-esque vehicles, even on Tiananmen Square. Surely it can find a lucrative market with the Chinese tuhao population? It’s already managed to gain a bit of notoriety in China, after a Segway was mentioned as one of the gifts that brought down Bo Xilai in his 2013 trial.
And as China takes its place as the leading cause of man-made global warming, it could become a popular environmentally-friendly option. You will never see a mountain of discarded Segways overlooking the Hangzhou suburbs. We hope.
Furthermore, Time Magazine and Ninebot’s backers cast the acquisition as an important moment forecasting the end of copycat China:
Still, the Ninebot-Segway deal makes a lot of sense as it relates to China. Ninebot and its backers want to put an end to not only the copyright feud with Segway, but also to a larger, nationwide controversy that Segway called China’s “widespread pattern of infringement”—or what’s also been labeled “copycat China.”
“Today it’s not just copycat China,” Sequoia Capital partner Neil Shen said during Ninebot’s announcement in Beijing. “China will expand, through its own innovations and through acquisitions.”
Irony kind of follows Segway around. The company has already been sold off twice before to investors, in 2009 and then again in 2013. The first British investor died in a 2010 Segway crash.
by Alex Linder
[Images via Segway Blog]