March 29, 2002 10:50 AM PST

Segway auctions close with 6-figure bids

Three lucky consumers will be among the first to own a Segway Human Transporter, but they will pay a pretty price.

Auctions for three of the devices closed on Amazon.com on Thursday night at $100,600, $104,100 and, after several last-minute bids, $160,000.

Bruce Waldack, an Internet millionaire and the founder of Thruport Technologies, won one of the HTs with the final bid of $100,600. Waldack, who collects vintage computers, sold DigitalNation, a Web hosting firm he founded, to Verio for $100 million in 1999.

Amazon confirmed that all of the top bids on the HT auctions are legitimate, said Carrie Peters, a company spokeswoman.

Segway representatives were not immediately available for comment.

The HT, formerly known by the code names Ginger and IT, is an electric-powered, self-balancing, two-wheeled device designed by renowned inventor Dean Kamen. Once it goes on sale to consumers in the fourth quarter of this year, the HT will cost around $3,000.

The HT has been riding a wave of hype since details about the device first leaked out in January 2001. Segway unveiled the scooter late last year. The device has drawn the praise of tech luminaries such as Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, and an investment from Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Segway placed the devices up for auction on Amazon last month to raise money for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a nonprofit organization founded by Kamen. The organization says its mission is to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in children, their schools and communities.

After a fast start, bidding on the devices cooled for much of the last month. Three days after the auctions started, bidding on two of the devices reached $85,000 and topped $100,000 on the other.

Unlike Amazon does with other high-profile auctions, it did not prescreen customers before they placed bids. Thus, anyone could place a bid, regardless of ability or intent to pay.

Amazon didn't prescreen bidders because the company wanted everyone to be able to have the opportunity to bid on the scooters, Peters said. But once the bids started skyrocketing, the company started contacting bidders to determine whether their bids were serious.

Peters declined to say whether the company contacted all the bidders on the auctions, but she said Amazon did remove some bids that were fraudulent.

"After realizing that this was a very high-profile auction, we stepped up the verification process," she said. "We were aggressive in verifying the bids."

A significant number of bids appear to have been pranks. At least 10 bids were retracted from each of the auctions; the price of one of the HTs momentarily fell from more than $100,000 to less than $86,000 on Thursday after some customers retracted their bids.

Most bids were placed by customers who had no history of buying on Amazon's auction site. Auction users often set up new user IDs to place prank bids so they don't risk sullying their reputations on their main accounts.

Prank bidding has been a recurring problem with online auctions. When Sony's PlayStation 2 debuted in fall 2000 on auction sites such as eBay, the price for the PlayStation 2 soared to more than three times its retail price of $299. But at least some of the bids, including one for $2,705, appeared to be pranks.

Likewise, F***edCompany.com owner Phil Kaplan pulled the auction for his site in 2000 after receiving numerous prank bids.

Waldack, at least, was serious with his bid. Determined to win at least one of the scooters, he placed bids on all three of the HTs. Waldack, who has also won an Apple I and bid on a Cray supercomputer on eBay, said he was concerned about the potential for pranks but wanted to win an HT because of the device's revolutionary nature.

"I think this thing may really change what we are doing," Waldack said. "If you had had the chance to buy one of the first (airplanes) and had the cash to do it, wouldn't you have done it?"

 

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