More Ginger details may be coming

Information on the mysterious "personal mobility vehicle" that supposedly can carry people up stairs and over irregular surfaces may emerge next week amid wild speculation.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
3 min read
More details on Ginger, the alleged scooter at the center of controversy and wild speculation for close to a year, may emerge next week amid a flurry of patent applications from its inventor.

"Good Morning America" anchor Diane Sawyer said earlier this week that the show will reveal what Ginger--also known as IT--is next week on the show. Judging from Sawyer's comments, Ginger watchers expect the segment to air Monday. ABC, the network that hosts the show, is running a guess-the-identity-of-Ginger contest.

Meanwhile, Dean Kamen, the inventor of the device, has filed for at least four patents in the past three months with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The patents revolve primarily around methods for making a "personal mobility vehicle" that could carry people up stairs or over other irregular surfaces.

Ginger is the brainchild of Kamen, who won the 2000 National Medal for Technology, and the New Hampshire-based company he founded called DEKA Research and Development.

DEKA declined to comment on the "Good Morning America" segment or the device.

Details about Ginger have been scarce ever since rumors about the device began grabbing public attention nearly a year ago.

A patent application filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) international bureau on Dec. 14, 2000, has fueled speculation that Ginger is a motorized, scooter-like device. Other details revealed by Kamen have been that the device takes just 10 minutes to assemble, has a price tag of less than $2,000, and will debut in 2002.

In the latest twist, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office posted on Oct. 25 one of Kamen's patent applications for "personalized mobility vehicles" that would carry a person in a standing position, as well as cargo, over uneven surfaces.

Another patent application from Kamen posted the same day seeks protection over a "method for controlling the fuel-air ratio of a burner of an external combustion engine."

Yet another U.S. application posted Sept. 20 discusses a mobility device that can climb stairs. In the same month, another patent application from Kamen for safety devices for a personal vehicle was posted.

Whether the applications have anything to do with Ginger, however, is anyone's guess. The patent application activity also could be to more fully protect DEKA's full legal rights. And the WIPO and the U.S. applications overlap. A WIPO patent protects owners in most European countries, while a U.S. patent protects against infringement in the United States. Typically, inventors will also file similar applications in Asia, said Richard Belgard, a patent consultant.

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos have seen the device, with Jobs going so far as to say it could prompt builders to construct cities around it.

Kamen himself has been coy. In March, reporters crammed into a keynote speech he delivered at the Association for Computing Machinery's Beyond Cyberspace conference in San Jose, Calif. Kamen briefly mentioned Ginger but spent most of his time talking about the unintended consequences of rapid technological change. In a tip to showmanship, he rode onto the stage in his invention called the iBot Transporter, a six-wheeled robotic "mobility system" for people with disabilities.

"We have a promising project, but nothing of the earth-shattering nature that people are conjuring up," Kamen said at the conference.

Theories about the device abound. Some believe it will have more than two wheels, while others debate whether it will contain a Stirling engine, a special type of engine that uses heat efficiently. DEKA reserved the URL mystirlingscooter.com in February 2001, while another Kamen-related company called Arcos registered the URL flywheels.com.

DEKA's research largely focuses on inventions for the medical field. The company designed the Home Choice, a relatively portable, peritoneal dialysis machine marketed by Baxter, as well as balloon stents for unblocking arteries that are marketed by Johnson & Johnson. Some believe that Ginger will be used in the medical field, but Kamen has said it won't necessarily be a medical device.

Chat rooms dedicated to the device are currently divided over what the "Good Morning America" segment may reveal. Some assert that official details about Ginger will emerge. Others speculate that a person who broke a nondisclosure agreement will appear on the show.

Staff writer Richard Shim contributed to this report.