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While working in the cavernous Gare Montparnasse set in Shepperton Studios, London, prepping a Steadicam Segway for Larry McConkey's stunning opening shot for Martin Scorcese's Hugo, my partner, Ulrich Kahlert, and I began designing the third-generation Steadicam Segway, the Steadiseg. Ulrich was the inventor of the Segway handsfree steering system, and had seen his invention pass through two generations of improvements from his original prototype, but it quickly became evident that we had go further to meet the demands this film would put on the machine.
Our first problem was weight-carrying capacity. The machine could not support the heavy load of the twin-Alexa Pace 3D Steadicam rig without the hard mount bending and flexing. Our second problem was safety. The unguarded wheels would catch on any obstacle and climb it, potentially flipping the machine over. Third was comfort. The saddle caused knee strain when used for a whole working day. Last was durability. By the end of that—admittedly heavy—shoot, the machine needed attention to bring it back to working condition. Ulrich and I decided to to build a Steadicam Segway that would overcome all those problems, and since then, we haven't had one single component back for repair, despite having machines working full time in rental companies all over the world, some of which have worked on two Olympic Games.
The bulk of our costs is in materials and machining. For the Steadiseg saddle, we use aircraft aluminium, custom bronze bushings, and full-grain leather. It's the only saddle that is adjustable not just for height and fore–aft placement for balancing different weights of Steadicam rig, but for distance between legs, distance between front of leg and rear of leg, distance in height between knee and calf muscle—and all four pads are continuously and independently adjustable angularly to accommodate differing musculature. You can also quickly tailor the saddle by an independent spindle that allows you to go from snug fit for working on rough ground, to a loose fit for working on level ground. And then we have comfort. Instead of plastic we put full-grain leather between your legs. Finally, the Steadiseg saddle rotates about the horizontal plane, by means of an adjustable, self-centring swivel, which greatly reduces knee strain when turning.
For our hard mount, we use precision steel tubing, hand welded to drop-forged steel rosettes that are vacuum hardened on the outside only, so leaving the interior ductile and maximally resistant to fracturing. We've tested the hard mount to three times a maximum Steadicam load over rough ground—without the benefit of a sprung Steadicam arm—and have yet to break it. To cover and protect the wheels from accidental contact with set and actors, we use spun aircraft aluminium for the load-bearing inner fenders, and vacuum-moulded polypropylene—the material truck mudguards are made from—for the outers. This material is so strong that it never stress fractures, but so soft that it won't scratch a wooden prop.
We set out to make as good a machine as we could, aiming at a pro market that expects high standards, and we're happy with the result. Our machine is much safer, stronger, and more comfortable than previous generations. We know it's expensive, and apologise for that. We fully understand that it may be outside of many people's budget, but hope that if you buy one, you'll see a quick return on your investment, and enjoy using it for many years.
Whether you buy with us or not, please read our Steadiseg User Manual for riding and safety instructions. Steadicam Segway is a lot safer and a great deal more fun when done correctly.
Chris and Ulrich