Specialty LE vehicles get rolling: T3 Motion and Segway X2
When police agencies began adopting clean air vehicles for special applications, they quickly reaped the obvious benefits. Officers on personal electric vehicles are perceived as more approachable by the general public. They are consistently better for public relations. But some obvious shortfalls also exist, and so when I tested the T3 Motion Law Enforcement vehicle and the Segway X2 Police, I was skeptical. Are these things just a fashionable response to the demand for green police products or do they have practical, tactical use?
After completing my tests, I discovered a few things. My most immediate observation was that “I need to test more products that are this much fun!” Second, these products have a real niche in police work, especially when augmenting the current vehicle fleet.
Weighing in at about 300 pounds, the T3 Motion is a three-wheel, chariot-like vehicle with a carrying capacity of 450 pounds. Yes, it can carry 150 percent of its own weight. It boasts a zero degree turning radius—it can reverse direction within its own length. This is accomplished by making the drive wheel the turning wheel also. At the 25 mph maximum speed, it is good for about 15 mile total range. The 25mph version is available as a special order, which I recommend for larger patrol areas. At minimum speed—about 5mph—it can go 75 up to miles.
When I rode the T3 Motion, the thing I noticed first was the vehicle’s ability to get up to speed quickly. It uses an electric DC motor and stops smoothly, thanks to oversized hydraulic disc brakes. The second most noticeable thing is the agility of the vehicle. It turns sharper than it looks and the front wheel drive tends to keep the boat from capsizing. If I were to change anything, I would give it a big blaring siren that belies its appearance, rather than the electronic one that comes standard. There is not an agency on this continent that doesn’t have an application for one of these.
Chief Mike Belcher of University of The Pacific Public Safety Department helped me with this review. His agency consists of nice officers, three sergeants and himself. Their department is unique in their approach to service. As a campus agency, they work closely with surrounding agencies. Like many universities across the country the schedule is packed with special events, as many as 100 per year. It has to be the best way to tour the area also as UOP has some of the prettiest college architecture in the area.
Patrolling UOP requires several different methods and the T3 Motion definitely fills the niche. Chief Belcher showed me the charging units in use and said that the vehicles have yet to expend a full charge on a shift. Two power packs fit neatly near the toes of the rider and users can swap out one or both. During several months of use, the UOP DPS has experienced about a two hour recharge from a full discharge for each pack. They have status lights on the vehicle and the charging stations run on 110 v outlets. Thus, the boast of pennies per day in energy is quite accurate.
The T3 Motion accelerates quickly. Across a crosswalk, it can pass some cars, even if they were revving their engines. It is fairly stable, as three wheel vehicles go. Unlike similar vehicles, they do not have any kind of suspension and therefore not appropriate for cobblestone roads. They are, however, perfect for areas that are paved with lane control areas that preclude cars but allow similar vehicles.
Kosta Panos, also of the UOP Public Safety, demonstrated the operation of the product, which is quiet and easy to master. The service record at UOP DPS has been excellent and users have enjoyed the increased access and approachability with the T3 Motion vehicles.
The Segway, in case anyone just dropped on the planet in the last few minutes, is a two wheeled transporter. More appropriately, it is an advanced people mover, consisting of a set of handlebars like a pogo stick mounted between two cart-like tires, in a self balancing package. This setup appears to defy physics as the rider grasps the handlebars and flies the thing upright, using leaning and what appears to be mind control to steer.
Actually, Segway uses sensors, gyroscopes, and accelerometers to “feel” the ground and your body position relative to it, and translate this into motion. I was skeptical about two things. First, is this a good (safe) way to get around? Second, is this really a good thing for patrol use?
The Segway X2 Police model has an electronic communicator module called an InfoKey controller. It can be clipped on the vehicle, but is more wisely placed in the user’s pocket. When the user gets a certain distance away from the Segway, the vehicle is inoperable. It also can act as an alarm remote and battery status indicator.
Before one gets on, one should look at the balance indicators, a simple pattern of LEDs between where the feet go. Mine were all lit and I stepped up.
Cpl. Olson took me an a tour of CSU Stanislaus, a campus that has emerged from its decades old cocoon into one of the most beautiful academically and athletically enriched Colleges in California. It was there I learned how to jump curbs (one must “bunny hop” a little) and take a run at a few steep embankments (do it once and you’re a veteran). Cpl. Olson demonstrated going down stairs (nope, I didn’t try this one) and off road maneuvers. The Segway X2 Police model has beefier tires and deep tread. It is appropriate for mixed terrain use and is capable negotiating almost anything the officer doesn’t have to jump over. The maximum speed for most Segway models is around 12.5 MPH. This is plenty for patrol use.
California State University Stanislaus Police Department uses their Segways for routine patrols, special events and security checks, which consist of insuring classrooms and campus areas are secured. Cpl. Olson commented that his security check routine has been cut nearly in half by use of the X2 as one check a building without dismounting. This is an advantage of a vehicle that is really an extension of the body.
Cpl. Olson demonstrated the maneuverability of the product, which can turn in its own circle and negotiate pedestrian traffic without interference. For officers working special events, using the Segway to sneak up on someone is often quieter than walking up to them. I had a peek at their Segway policy and they actually have addressed surprising pedestrians from behind.
While riding, I was surprised how many people greet Segway riders. One can be going full speed, stop and turn around or slow to a walking pace as instinctively as if the Segway was a body part extension. It is natural to slow down around pedestrians limited to the ancient limitations of walking.
Cruising through one of the parking lots, I found that standing on a raised platform allows officers to see over the tops of cars and the Segway fit neatly between parked cars. This makes it superior for controlling vehicle traffic areas.
There are a few things that administrators should know. First, it takes a bit of doing, but a rider can upset the thing, although it takes hitting a solid object. From other agencies who have used them for several years, their safety record shows that most mishaps are embarrassing, not injurious to the rider. Second, there are models for urban environments but the X2 Police is better for general patrol, unless officers are limited to an airport or the interior of a hospital. Third, a person can outsprint one, but they are not likely to outrun one.
The Segway is a technologically advanced method for an officer to get from one place to another. Spending a little time on one answered my questions. Yes, they are a viable and safe way to get around. And yes, the Segway is a safe and effective way to improve community interaction in policing.
While I can’t say either product has an exclusive tactical application, there are some areas were officers can get to an emergency situation faster and not be winded when they get there. Several companies have designed aftermarket products like ballistic shields for this purpose. Manning a perimeter in a Segway X2 or using it as a Command Center transporter may increase its efficiency.
The large payload of the T3 Motion lends itself to other, similar applications. For example, this may be an excellent vehicle to modify for EOD use.
Are they energy efficient? Yes. These things can run all day on energy costs calculated in pennies, not dollars. There are many ways where they can be used instead of patrol cars.
They are ready to be sworn in.
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