An Overview on Dean Kamens Inventions

Lord Dumpling resides in the kingdom of North Dumpling. He has a constitution, a flag and a signed nonaggression pact between H.W. Bush, President USA and him. He declared his country a separate entity after the Coast Guard cut off electricity to his island. It is the “first green country in the world,” he proclaims. He travels his “country” on a Segway PT (Personal Transportation).

The whimsy captures the genius mind of Dean Kamen. Without electricity, he came up with the idea of “Slingshot”. The “sling” is a new version of the Stirling engine. The engine is totally closed, and instead of using an internal-combustion engine, it has a drive that forces gas from one chamber to another. The “shot” is an innovative vapor-compression water distiller. This invention can supply clean water out of urine or toxic waste. It is so pure that “you could inject it into your arm”. He spent $50 million of his personal funds to develop the prototype. Imagine the third world countries that would benefit from this invention.

This creative innovator told how he came up with the new dialysis machine that is currently used. A corporation came to DEKA and hired them to come up with an idea to improve the dialysis machine. Kamen and his team came up with the concept for a portable, briefcase-sized unit that was portable and patients could use at home. They presented the idea to the corporation. Both agreed on a budget and completion date. The budget went over the agreed price at the same time as the scheduled due date. The company cancelled the project. Kamen and his team, using Kamen’s money completed the design. In 1990, the dialysis machine replaced the old machines.

Why did Kamen become so prolific as an inventor? As a child, he was dyslexic and ADHD. He credits his ADHD as the catalyst for so many inventions. He was obstinate in following his “own” path according to his brother, Mitch. His father, a cartoon artist (Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science), called him a “human irritant.” His teacher nicknamed him, “Dino the Relentless”.

As a child, Kamen tinkered with transistors. He developed a light box that pulsated with the music. He sneaked into the Hayden Planetarium in New York and installed a new light show. The planetarium, impressed with his lights, hired him to replace all the lights. Kamen began his career in electronics. He made $60,000 a year right after high school. His love of tinkering and robotics led him to launch FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). It is set-up to promote love of science and technology for young people. It is a competition of scientists and engineers who team up with school-age youth to build robots. The finalist of each regional competition come together to compete in the Georgia Dome.

His first innovation began when his brother came home from medical school and suggested that Kamen invent an automated way to deliver drugs. It took eleven years to build the AutoSyringe, which he sold to Baxter International for $30 million. It was a defining moment for Kamen. He realized he loved working on many things and established DEKA (DEan KAmen). It is a state-of-the-art engineering lab, built with Kamen’s own funds, and staffed with three hundred engineers. In addition to the inventions mentioned above, the following are his major technological breakthroughs.

IBOT – A five wheeled wheelchair that can go up and down stairs. It uses self-balancing technology tonavigate rough terrain. It “stands” up at eye level to carry on conversations with ambulatory people.

DEKA ARM – Or as Kamen calls it “Luke” (after Luke Skywalker) funded by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Army Research Office, for war amputees. It has sensors in it that allows the user to pick things up, shake hands and eat. Kamen related a story on Colbert Reports, when he demonstrated how the arm works. A Gulf bi-lateral amputee, after about 10 hours of practice, was able to eat a bowl of cereal without spilling. The wife, who stood behind her husband, said, “You have a choice, you can give us the arms, or you can have Chuck.”

Dean Kamen, never married, nor had children, says he is married to his ideas and his inventions and innovations are his children. What a legacy!