Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 9, 2009

Segways offer high-tech transport for students touring North Campus

Prospective students soon may get a feel for Michigan Engineering’s cutting-edge nature in tours that are a first of their kind for colleges anywhere: They’ll be rolling across North Campus atop a Segway personal transporter.

Amy Claeson practices driving a Segway at a training session for student tour guides. (Photo by James Iseler)

Acting upon a recommendation from three students who researched the issue for their Industrial and Operations Engineering course, the College of Engineering purchased 10 of the two-wheeled, battery-powered devices to use on campus tours this fall.

Tour guides and other students who will use the Segways participated in an hour-long training session Thursday to learn how to drive — and teach others to drive — the gyroscope-guide devices.

“We’ll get to see a lot more” on the tours, said Jordan Adams, an electrical engineering student and tour guide, after a training session Thursday. “I think it kind of gives the college one more step up on other colleges.”

The optional Segway tours, which the company says are a first for any college campus, will give visitors greater range and allow them to see more aspects of North Campus, says Jeanne Murabito, executive director for student affairs at the College of Engineering.

“I think it will definitely enhance the profile of our tours here,” she says. The rolling tours will enable visits to Bursley Hall, located at the edge of campus, thereby adding a residence hall stop that previous tour participants have indicated would be useful.

Currently, walking tours are conducted on Monday and Friday afternoons for groups ranging from 20-60 students and parents, Murabito says. The Segways will operate separately from traditional walking tours conducted at the same time.

Although many of those being trained seemed hesitant when first stepping onto the Segways, most were zooming around the courtyard in front of Lurie Bell Tower after less than a minute. “I didn’t think they would be so easy to use,” said Amy Claeson, a biomedical engineering student.

Eight visitors and two tour guides will be able to use the Segways on each tour, which will include a brief training session. The devices are emblazoned with the iconic Block M and the College of Engineering logo.

The impetus for the rolling reconnaissance project began with engineering students who saw the possibilities for improving tours of their campus. As part of their IOE 424 class last year, Mycah Gambrell, Alp Kardicali and Alexander Wiraatmaja worked with the company and researched issues surrounding the tours.

“These students dug very deeply into the feasibility of this, looking at liability issues, maintenance, things like that. They had a really strong proposal that we were able to build on,” Murabito says.

The total cost for the project was about $30,000. Segway sold the transporters to the CoE at a discount. “They are very excited about this opportunity to promote their product as well,” she says.