He's the Thomas Edison of our time, the Bill Gates of New Hampshire. Inventor Dean Kamen is best known for designing the revolutionary Segway, a two-wheeled "human transporter" that uses gyroscopic technology to balance the machine. The Segway was also known as "Ginger" and "IT" before it was launched. The wildly enthusiastic pre-launch publicity and speculation around its development was part local curiosity, part national mystery. The Segway Human Transporter was unveiled in December 2001. It cost Kamen more than $100 million and over a decade to make.
It wasn't just the pre-launch publicity that made Kamen a near mythic-like star. It was the comments he made during interviews when asked about his new invention. He was quoted as saying that he believes the Segway "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy." A book written by author Steve Kemper said that the invention would change the world.
Kamen fits the profile of most scientists and inventors. When he sets out to accomplish something, he does so with impassioned determination and zeal. He is a visionary. But his visions are so science-fiction-like as to be unbelievable — until he manifests them. He has said that he "is married to his inventions," which is perhaps the reason why he is still single. His Bedford home is even eclectically designed, complete with secret passageways, a helicopter hangar and an observation tower. The centerpiece of the home is a cast-iron steam engine that was once owned by Henry Ford; it is prominently displayed in the center atrium of the house.
Dean Kamen was born in Rockville Centre, New York in 1951. He attended the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts but dropped out before graduating. He is the founder of the robotics organization FIRST (For Inspiration of Science and Technology), which promotes robotics in high schools across the country. In 1986, he founded Science Enrichment Encounters (SEE), an interactive learning center located in the Amoskeag Millyard in Manchester, NH. He also owns DEKA, a company whose mission is to "foster innovation" and employs over 200 engineers, technicians and support staff.
His products originally included medical devices like the Stent that was used to repair damage to Vice President Dick Cheney's heart. But first there were products like the AutoSyringe, a portable kidney dialysis system, a programmable insulin infusion pump, and the all-terrain wheelchair called IBot that can climb stairs, descend curbs, travel on the beach and elevate users to about 6 ft. tall. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Kilby Award in 1994, the National Medal of Technology in 2000 and the Lemelson-MIT Prize for his invention of the Segway. Kamen was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame in 2005. He holds over 150 patents.
Kamen has also gone global. He has begun working on a water treatment system for underdeveloped nations. The system is said to be able to turn contaminated water into potable water through a distillation process that removes bacteria and water-borne pathogens.
His most recent work, the "Luke Arm" is a state-of-the art robotic arm for amputees. Kamen and his team of engineers at DEKA received a grant from the Pentagon to develop the prosthetic device which is agile enough to pick up raisins.
Kamen also recently completed production of an electric car, a two-seat hatchback that resembles a cross between the "Smart Car" and a Volkswagen Beetle. The car can go 60 miles on a single charge and features a "Stirling" engine, invented at DEKA. It powers features like the heater which would normally drain power from the engine, leaving the battery almost entirely for propulsion. The car is only a prototype now, and its name will potentially be called "The Revolt." Kamen is currently in talks with the Norwegians to produce the car. Look for it on the road in the future.
Dean is currently starring in a television program called "Dean of Invention" with Joanne Colan. It premiered on the Planet Green network on October 22, 2010. The show explores scientific breakthroughs in aviation, biotechnology, energy, nanotechnology and robotics.