Being Dean Kamen

by Richard T. Stuebi

For a long time, I hadn’t heard much about Dean Kamen. He was last in the news, a lot, in 2001 when he unveiled the Segway.

You probably remember the Segway. Kamen was quoted in an article in Time upon the Segway’s release that it “will be to the car what the car was to the horse-and-buggy.” No less a force than Kleiner Perkins bought into the hype, making Segway one of its portfolio companies. The Segway hardly revolutionized transportation, and Kamen faded from view (at least from my view) for quite awhile. But, as recent reportage shows, Kamen clearly continues to think big, and is becoming increasingly visible again.

Kamen’s company DEKA Research and Development is now reported to be working on a car called the Revolt, a Think car modified to employ a hybrid-electric vehicle with a Stirling (in lieu of internal combustion) engine that can theoretically be powered by virtually anything that burns.

Meanwhile, Kamen is reported to be hosting visitors to North Dumpling Island, an island he owns off the coast of Connecticut, which he is turning into a showcase of how it’s possible to create a self-sufficient, zero-carbon economy.

Kamen must have tremendous self-confidence, to rebound from what surely must have been painfully discouraging — maybe even humiliating — in the Segway’s failure to achieve its claims, to now sticking his neck out yet again in such exposed ways.

If we are to make real progress on our energy and environmental challenges, especially in a world whose economies are in disarray, we will need courage — some might even say recklessness — from many bold thinkers and doers to overcome long odds and formidable obstacles.

So today, I offer a tip of the hat to Mr. Kamen. I admire his strength of vision. I don’t know that I’d necessarily invest my ever-dwindling personal capital in his ventures, but I hope for his sake and for the planet’s that he’s onto something more substantial this time than he was with the Segway seven years ago.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

5 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    I am not a Dean Kamen fan. He is mostly hype. People have proposed Stirling engine electric hybrid automobiles for years on end. People have also proposed Diesel engine hybrids fueled with soybean oil. That’s where my money is.Although I wish him luck, he is nothing more than a flamboyant entrepreneur with hopes of striking it richer than he already is.I don’t believe the Segway will ever be commonplace. Why stand when you can sit in an electric wheel chair and do almost the same things??? No foresight there, I’m afraid.John ArchibaldNorthfield, Minnesota

  2. ambroseliao
    ambroseliao says:

    I agree that the Segway is overhyped. In order to have the Segway stand on it's own and move by leaning, these issues were taken care of by the stand up electric scooter that doesn't need microprocessors to keep it upright. A simple twist or thumb throttle eliminates the need to lean to go forward. It's technological overkill. The Segway costs 2 to 10 times what it should. A $500 to $1000 stand up scooter does everything that the Segway does. See the Goped site : a $1,000 scooter that many could afford and really use! Now that would be revolutionary!Ambrose

  3. Ted
    Ted says:

    Disclosure: I first met Dean Kamen at the TED conference over 15 years ago. Since, I have seen many of his ideas come to fruition (most recently the new cyber arm) and worked as a volunteer deploying FIRST across schools in the U.S. and abroad. Personally, my background is in global logistics and economic development, which perspective forms the following comments.Shifting market pressures, conflicting vested interests/agendas, and all-important timing always temper the tight interrelationship between discovery, development and deployment.With little effort, research on Dean Kamen leads one to a vast array of his discoveries and inventions, many of which hold the distinction of shaping whole industry segments. Many consider Dean Kamen our time’s Edison, perhaps with both positive and few of the negative attributes.In forward thinking cities and regions, where transportation for both residences as well as first responders is of import, the Segway has been a success. The biggest impediment has been infrastructure and safety laws. Unfortunately, few U.S. city economic development agencies have such foresight, although a few have adopted Segways for mostly local police and security.Meanwhile, overseas the Segway has had significant acceptance, most usually (again) for local law enforcement, and, in some Southern European cities, personal use. Perhaps more interesting is the copying of the Segway idea for a personal transportation device to be used in Masdar Initiative in Abu Dhabi.I have seen Dean’s Stirling engine work on many occasions. I am also aware of funding meetings held with major international financial organizations to support deployment. Basically, the lack of deployment here is conflicted agendas and vested interests.As to Dean’s flare for the dramatic and big vision (called showbiz by some), describing it as hype shows a lack of understanding of the basic sciences, as well as the individual that is Dean Kamen.TED StoutStamford, Connecticut

  4. Snowman
    Snowman says:

    I've never met Dean Kamen, but for a time I lived and worked in NH alongside a friend who worked for Dean Kamen. I had the privilege of operating a Segway on a number of occasions and I have to say that I was very impressed with the vehicle in every way. While the practicality of such a vehicle is certainly limited in its scope, the concept, engineering, and execution of the Segway will always impress me.Ted MillerPennsylvania

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