Kamen predicts the future of tech
Dean Kamen, inventor, DEKA
The second scientist to speak during the third day of the Association for Computing Machinery's Beyond Cyberspace conference in San Jose, Calif., was none other than inventor and entrepreneur Dean Kamen.
Kamen has received much attention in the media and technology industry this year for a device that he is reportedly working on called IT. Speculation has arisen that IT is non-polluting, scooter-like vehicle.
However, instead of building the already considerable hype surrounding IT or dropping hints about what it may be, Kamen and conference representatives steered clear of the topic, not even uttering its code-name, "Ginger."
Requests for an interview with Kamen were denied.
Kamen arrived on stage propelled by another of his latest creations, the iBot Transporter, a six-wheeled robotic "mobility system" for people with disabilities. It resembles a wheelchair but can climb stairs and traverse uneven terrain. He then started talking about the danger of predictions and his plans for FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), the non-profit organization he founded in 1989. Speakers were asked by conference organizers to predict where technology would take us in the future.
Kamen recalled a story he overheard at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
"A man who was standing on a corner saw another man grasping onto a runaway horse for dear life. That horse is technology, and that man is you," Kamen said, referring to the audience.
Kamen went on to say that technology is moving so fast that people don't understand the significance of it and often, as with most inventions, there are unintended consequences. Predictions focus attention on one intention, leaving people unprepared for unexpected consequences that sometimes are more significant than the original intentions.
Kamen also took the opportunity to promote FIRST. The organization holds an annual competition pairing high school students with engineers to create robots that are pitted against each other. FIRST and Kamen are dedicated to changing the way Americans perceive science and technology.
A patent application filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization's International Bureau on Dec. 14, 2000, has fueled speculation that Ginger is a 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.
Neither Kamen nor representatives from his company, Manchester, N.H.-based DEKA, has commented on the device. The only word from Kamen has been through statements on DEKA's Web site, where he tried to downplay the hype surrounding the mystery device but not reveal details about it.
Speculation surrounding the device has been fueled by purported endorsements from figures such as Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs and Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, along with excerpts from an upcoming book stating the device will change the way cities are designed.
"We have a promising project, but nothing of the Earth-shattering nature that people are conjuring up," Kamen said.
An article in the March 20 issue of Inside magazine stated that Ginger is indeed a scooter powered by a Sterling engine, almost a perpetual motion machine. The article was prepared without any cooperation from Kamen.