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Dean Kamen Mania
November 17, 2002 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Present day Thomas Edison strikes again. More fine stuff from the guy who brought you the Segway HT. Dean Kamen, and his fine folks at DekaResearch, appear to have invented a device which promises to save countless lives across the globe, power villages, and runs on water. What's next? The perpetual motion machine?
posted by IndigoSkye (55 comments total)

 
I think "appears" is the relevant word there.

Last night, Kamen said the process of turning his idea into reality was still under way.

"I cannot represent to you that this is done," he told Rather, pointing to a prototype of the engine.


Uh huh.
posted by languagehat at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2002


What languagehat said. Kamens' a heckuva lot smarter than I'll ever be, but I like his inventions much better when I hear about them *after* they're on the market and doing good in people's lives. What's the point to showing off a concept like this on TV? I'm sure he has plenty of investors who still value his work in the medical field even after the disappointment of the Segway silliness. Is it an ego thing? From here, it comes across as kind of ridiculous.
posted by mediareport at 10:05 AM on November 17, 2002


Kamens' a heckuva lot smarter than I'll ever be

How do you know that? How do you know you know that?
posted by Nelson at 10:14 AM on November 17, 2002


Stirling engine animation
Two piston version.
posted by gametone at 10:23 AM on November 17, 2002


I'll wait for the Megling engine, thanks.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:43 AM on November 17, 2002


I was rather hoping the original Segway would be the Segway we have (er, will have) + a Stirling engine.

As the Stirling engine is the most efficient engine possible, I will wait until it gets to that point before before I purchase a Segway. Here just on the fringes of downtown, with everything just a mile and a half away, and me rejecting the very state of mind that is car ownership, a Segway would indeed be nice.
posted by Ryvar at 10:50 AM on November 17, 2002


I wonder if this new stuff will blow as hard as the segway did.
posted by mcsweetie at 11:06 AM on November 17, 2002


Unlikely, seeing as it is, as I mentioned, the most efficient engine possible. Not to mention very useful for the large portions of the third world that would kill for desalinization.
posted by Ryvar at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2002


Someday they'll build cities around -- oh, forget it.
posted by webmutant at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2002


I fail to see how you can consider this thing 'unvailed' when Kamen talked about it to a group of students at MIT or something like months ago. There was even post about it on metafilter.
posted by delmoi at 12:22 PM on November 17, 2002


It's revealing that members this forum will shit themselves looking at 5k web pages and new cell phone gadgets, yet don't have the strength of vision to see the importance of what this guy is working on. Right, guys: Kamen has done more for more people than you'll ever do, but you're completely justified for criticizing his methods.

Kamen isn't a selfish guy, considering the things he has done. Maybe he's hitting TV to get across the potential for this technology, with the idea that more people working on it and more financial support put toward the idea could lead to something substantial. This guy is selling vision, and you guys are treating it like it's New Coke.
posted by troybob at 12:23 PM on November 17, 2002


No, see, the problem here is, he's treating it like it's New Coke.
posted by webmutant at 12:29 PM on November 17, 2002


The devil is in the details.
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on November 17, 2002


Thanks for those links, gametone. From the FAQ at stirlingengine.com:

Q. If Stirling engines are so efficient, why don't I have one in my car?

A....While it's very easy to build a Stirling engine that will stop instantly, there is not one thing in the world anyone can do to make one start instantly. When I get in my car I want it to start immediately (if not sooner) and be able to burn rubber off the tires as I leave the parking lot! Stirling engines can't do that. In spite of these limitations, Ford, GM, and 1979 AMC SpiritAmerican Motors Corp. spent millions of dollars developing Stirling engines for cars, back in the 1970's...Then oil prices came down in the 1980's, and people started to buy bigger cars. Suddenly there was no compelling reason to build an engine that was substantially more efficient than internal combustion engines, but wouldn't start instantly.


Amazing. Imagine the difference in the pace of modern culture if we all had to - horrors - wait one minute before we could pull out of the driveway.

Not to mention very useful for the large portions of the third world that would kill for desalinization.

Ok, I'll retract some of my skepticism, Ryvar; it sounds promising. And given the way a few large corporations are trying to privatize the globe's water supply, cheap, decentralized water purification machinery look increasingly important. It's really too bad, though, that Kamen's PR strategy has been so overblown in the past. It's hurt his credibility with a lot of folks, as the skeptical mechanical engineering prof in the article noted.
posted by mediareport at 12:40 PM on November 17, 2002


Kamen doesn't hold a candle to Edison in terms of sheer revolutionary out-put. Segway is a $2000 wheel-chair for healthy people. Exactly how much fatter did Kamen decide America should be?
posted by dgaicun at 12:46 PM on November 17, 2002


Nothing against Edison, but the things Kamen et al are working on now are about a million times more complicated than the lightbulb or the phonograph. An internal insulin pump for diabetics, a portable dialysis machine, are pretty sophisticated technology, and revolutionary for people who would, you know, die without them.
posted by Hildago at 1:25 PM on November 17, 2002


I for one, welcome our Segway-riding, Dean Kamen overlord.
posted by crunchland at 2:13 PM on November 17, 2002


The fact that you would dare compare Dean Kamen to Thomas Edison is offensive. Dean Kamen's inventions are all based on already proven technology and there is nothing truly original or extremely innovative about his work. Ohh wow, he made a dialysis machine smaller!
Thomas Edison's inventions were created basically from scratch, they were not improvements on already existing inventions. Edison invented the first electric motor... and it STILL RUNS. Kamen couldn't even make his damn scooter without those, and he could never in a million years figure out how to invent one either. In closing, Edison invented the lightbulb, Kamen improved upon a damn scooter. Kamen Sucks. Nikola Tesla is even better than them both though.
posted by banished at 3:08 PM on November 17, 2002


Tough crowd.
posted by websavvy at 3:14 PM on November 17, 2002


Way to defend true brilliance, banished.
posted by dgaicun at 4:30 PM on November 17, 2002


Segway is a $2000 wheel-chair for healthy people. Exactly how much fatter did Kamen decide America should be?

Segway is meant to replace cars inside of cities. Imagine how much nicer the air and sound quality inside cities would be without car and bus emissions.

Parking would be much easier and more available too :)
posted by jsonic at 4:51 PM on November 17, 2002


Segway is meant to replace cars inside of cities

Let's see - 18 miles per hour, 15 mile range, no ability to transport cargo, not waterproof. Yep, a perfect car replacement!

The reason for the hostility towards Kamen is simple - he was the beneficiary of a giant hype machine, then he failed to deliver. Now he's generating the hype again, with a technology that's second only to perpetual motion machines for faux inventions. As our Dear Leader once said, "fool me once, shame on .. shame on you. It fool me. We can't get fooled again."
posted by Nelson at 5:32 PM on November 17, 2002


18 miles per hour

The average speed of a car inside of a city (including waiting at lights, traffic jams...) is 7mph.

15 mile range

Notice the part about "inside of cities".

no ability to transport cargo

Absolutely false. Its being used in warehouses and by the post office. Attachments can be added to transport cargo.

The reason for the hostility towards Kamen is simple - he was the beneficiary of a giant hype machine

I don't remember him asking for any of that hype. In fact, I specifically remember him saying he didn't want it because of the pressure and expectations it produced.
posted by jsonic at 5:47 PM on November 17, 2002


As discussed before.

Also, this speech by Kamen was quite inspirational.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:48 PM on November 17, 2002


Saying Kamen doesn't ask for hype is like saying that Bush doesn't ask for blind patriotism. (I wonder how long before terrorism is included as a corollary of Godwin's Law)

Until then...
posted by kfury at 6:07 PM on November 17, 2002


So, what happens to the world if he succeeds?
posted by muppetboy at 6:12 PM on November 17, 2002


We'll have alot of bitter, jealous geeks, praying for schadenfreude. I really don't understand the vehemence of the people who don't want to see Kamen succeed... as if they have a personal stake in seeing him fail. Kamen wasn't the one who said that they'd rebuild/build cities to accomidate Ginger... I recall it was Steve Jobs who supposedly said that, after he was shown the device.

For those of you who think Kamen is all hype and no substance, you have to realize that Edison was as big a self-promoter as any of them. Invention is 1% inspiration, and 99% self-promotion.
posted by crunchland at 6:33 PM on November 17, 2002


Kfury: Kamen described the flurry of interest in Ginger "hype about a product that doesn't even exist yet." He also said "Spirited speculation about the unknown has led to expectations that are beyond whimsical." He said: "We have a promising project, but nothing of the Earth-shattering nature that people are conjuring up." He referred to the book proposal that started the hype as an "unfortunate, unapproved leak.'' These links were very easy to find.

Are there quotes you've seen from Kamen that make him seem like someone more interested in publicity than science? Watch that speech that people keep recommending above. I hope it will change your mind.
posted by Yogurt at 6:44 PM on November 17, 2002


Why get knotted over seeing Edison and Kamen in the same line (and what Crunchland said)? Without discrediting Edison, his "inventions" were often patented improvements of others' ideas. Important improvements, yes, but in the spirit of positive change and ingenuity, I find the comparison fair.
posted by G_Ask at 6:57 PM on November 17, 2002


The comparison I was trying to make was that both Kamen and Edison utilized a staff of professional inventors and researchers to help them realize their ideas. Not so much the quality or quantity of the results, which I believe is open to some debate.
posted by IndigoSkye at 7:21 PM on November 17, 2002


Segway is meant to replace cars inside of cities. Imagine how much nicer the air and sound quality inside cities would be without car and bus emissions.

Parking would be much easier and more available too :)


That's why we have bicycles. They cost about 20 times less and do the same thing (except they also give you exercise).

People prefer cars over simple transportation because of storage considerations; protection and separation from the elements; and, most important, the desirability of a personal, semi-private, contained environment.

Stop freely expressing your opinions by defending Segway, Jsonic, or I'll call you e-fluential, and all the petty Mefi-osa will rush forth and storm your castle, and I'll just win by default.
posted by dgaicun at 9:01 PM on November 17, 2002


Kamen, however, has yet to electrocute stray cats and dogs to increase the popularity of his own inventions.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 9:24 PM on November 17, 2002


banished: "Thomas Edison's inventions were created basically from scratch, they were not improvements on already existing inventions."

Actually, Edison borrowed plenty of ideas from others... his most famous invention, the light bulb was actually not his invention at all, but more of a refinement of existing technology.

So maybe the Kamen, edison comparison is not too much of a stretch after all.
posted by canucklehead at 10:19 PM on November 17, 2002


Don't forget the elephant, Dillon. (Warning! Self-link!)

Banished, Edison sure did invent a lot of neat stuff, but the electric motor was invented by Michael Faraday in 1821 while Faraday was demonstrating that electric currents produce magnetic fields. It was refined by William Sturgeon in 1832. Thomas Edison was born in 1847.

And for what it's worth, Edison (and his lab workers, who did a great deal of the heavy lifting on the lightbulb and the motion picture) had some prior art guiding them on the lightbulb. Rather than praise Edison for making the lightbulb a hundred times more long-lived and practical, we say that he invented it. Dean Kamen isn't the first self-promoting inventor in American history.
posted by snarkout at 10:25 PM on November 17, 2002


I never get tired of that video! Top that, Kamen.
posted by dgaicun at 11:57 PM on November 17, 2002


So let me see if I got that right:
-Kamen's about to release a machine that will end the world's energy and water sanitation problems;
-The Sci-fi channel's about to divulge a shattering smoking gun on the Roswell event next nov 22nd;
-March 8th 2003 will bring even bigger revelations to the human race.
Oh boy I can hardly wait!!! Are we there yet???

ps: as said above (Nelson et al), Kamen lost his credibility because he failed to deliver.
posted by pupil1 at 12:04 AM on November 18, 2002


Sorry, let me refine my argument... Edison constructed the first electric motor ever... made for a 110 to 120 volt line. Guess I sort of missed the last part because I read wrong here. My fault.

Anyway, to cut down to the bare bones of my argument, Kamen doesn't compare to Edison, because none of Kamen's inventions come even close to the importance of the lightbulb to modern society. Cities will not be built with the Segway in mind. Cities WERE built with the lightbulb in mind. If you want I can rant about how the lightbulb has saved more lives than his damn portable dialysis machine... but lets not even go there, lets simply ask, would you rather live without the lightbulb, or would you rather live without a gyroscopically stabalized scooter?

By the way, I can prove I am more important than Kamen. (sorta) For those of you hailing his stupid water machine that will end the water crisis, entertain my idea. Ever hear of a dehumidifier? It gathers water from the air. Create an efficient dehumidifier, hook it up to a water purifying machine, and boom.....fresh water anywhere there is electricity. If I could have a roomfull of engineers I could rattle these ideas off all day. Big deal. Kamen Sucks.
posted by banished at 3:08 AM on November 18, 2002


Kamen Sucks.

Hard to refute that logic. What did the guy ever do to you? Kill your puppy? Why so bitter?

would you rather live without the lightbulb, or would you rather live without a gyroscopically stabalized scooter?

I guess if I an inventor, I'd have a desk drawer full of ideas, and the ones I'd work on first would be the ones that would have wide appeal to bring in the money so I could work on the more earth-shattering ones.
posted by crunchland at 4:08 AM on November 18, 2002


So, here's my question: As I understand it, the stirling engine can be powered by any heat source: wood-burning fire, etc.

If Kamen's stirling engine is designed to generate electricity and/or do mechanical tasks for people who otherwise have no access to conventional power sources (electricity or gasoline for generators), then won't those people just be burning more firewood to do these tasks? What are the ramifications of that: further depletion of forests and wood sources, air quality issues, etc?
posted by tippiedog at 4:28 AM on November 18, 2002


A stirling engine can even be powered by solar heat. A small stirling engine powered by the sun can be used to drive a water pump to provide fresh water to cattle or people. It's a project I worked on in Engineering school. Very efficient and very clean source of energy. Unfortunately it's also not on par with the cost of existing technology.

Stirling engines will never replace our existing large-scale power sources, but it would be great for the small, remote, developed world applications.
posted by alrob at 5:54 AM on November 18, 2002


It was reported on Good Morning America Monday that the Segway is Good Morning" title="attempted pre-emption of an unmerited FPP">now available for sale to the general public for $4950 each. Pre-ordering starts at noon today at Amazon.com.
posted by xiffix at 5:59 AM on November 18, 2002


*groan*
posted by xiffix at 6:01 AM on November 18, 2002


That's why we have bicycles

I agree, and I think that bicyclists would really be happy if cars and buses were no longer clogging city streets.

They cost about 20 times less and do the same thing

Not quite true. Bicycles are not motorized and still require the user to balance themselves. Seqway just helps to reduce potential user error.

People prefer cars over simple transportation

I'm not against cars ( or SUVs "gasp" "blasphemy" ), I just think it would be cool to replace internal combustion vehicles inside cities. Segway is one way of doing this, but by no means the only method. And by replace I mean people choosing for themselves to change, not being forced to by others.
posted by jsonic at 6:44 AM on November 18, 2002


Segway is one way of doing this, but by no means the only method.

Some might say the worst proposed method, yet.
posted by dgaicun at 7:29 AM on November 18, 2002


Amazing. Imagine the difference in the pace of modern culture if we all had to - horrors - wait one minute before we could pull out of the driveway.

And give up that most important of twentieth-century cultural developments, the getaway car? Never!

Segway is meant to replace cars inside of cities. Imagine how much nicer the air and sound quality inside cities would be without car and bus emissions.

Oh my god! An urban replacement for cars! Be still my beating heart!

Oh wait. It's called feet. Nevermind.

People who insist on power transportation in urban areas deserve what they get.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:30 AM on November 18, 2002


Amazing. Imagine the difference in the pace of modern culture if we all had to - horrors - wait one minute before we could pull out of the driveway.

Mediareport, I understand you but would like to point out driving a diesel car in the 80's I did the above. You had to wait for the "start engine light" to come on before turning the ignition switch. Diesel engines require a hotter start thus the wait for the glow plugs to be fully ready before starting the engine. Some of my friends whom still don't fully understand diesel cars criticize me for owning that car. One because you had to wait so long before starting and driving away, couldn't just go. Second, that I had to be told, "Ok to start engine" like I was incapable of thinking for myself.

Yet with gains in technology patience is being lost as things are developed so a task can be processed quicker like travel. With this engine you could travel and upon arriving drink a glass of water, worth the patience, are we there yet.
posted by thomcatspike at 7:33 AM on November 18, 2002


People who insist on power transportation in urban areas deserve what they get

What do they get?
posted by jsonic at 7:39 AM on November 18, 2002


People prefer cars over simple transportation

No, people prefer any method of transportation that allows them the most flexibility and choice. Historically this was, of course, walking, and the urban form reflected this. This is why London and Berlin and Amsterdam are such high densities. Enter the train and trolley, and the streetcar suburbs are born - quick and easy. Enter the car and the suburbs that we know of today are born. Ask someone in Manhattan whether or not a car is more useful in the city, and compare that to the response to a farm hand in North East Ohio where a truck is necessary for survival.

The only reason why the car has become so ubiquitous is the fact that those marketing the car, the suburb, the "free will of the car," have won. In los Angeles GE [and others] bought up the Trolley lines and then shut them down. Look at popular culture beginning right before the 1920's and the city is the main character, and the car is the intruder. Move through history and this is reversed until there is no city and only continuous edge conditions and sprawl. I for one, applaud Kamen in his marketing and execution of this idea - who knows if it will revolutionize the urban form, I bet it won't - it still has a pedestrian limit of movement and range - but I get I could get from Midtown to the Village in about the same time in a Segway than in the Subway. The only thing I worry about is NYC sidewalks are notorious congested, and have their own rules of the road, and if the propelled scooter crazy [I'm looking at you SF] in 1999-2000 is any indication of my acceptance of being knocked over by one, I'll pass. Let me walk and get some exercise.
posted by plemeljr at 7:50 AM on November 18, 2002


People prefer cars over simple transportation

No, people prefer any method of transportation that allows them the most flexibility and choice.


Which appears to be cars.

The only reason why the car has become so ubiquitous is the fact that those marketing the car, the suburb, the "free will of the car," have won.

Yes, find someone to blame. The Capitalist thugs and brain-washers. Above I cited some plausible reasons people freely choose and prefer cars over simple transportation.

but I get I could get from Midtown to the Village in about the same time in a Segway than in the Subway.

Yeah, its not like anything like crowds will get in your way or slow you down. You could also use a bicycle instead of a big, gratuitous, expensive machine.
posted by dgaicun at 8:16 AM on November 18, 2002


plemeljr: I think that the story about GE buying up the lines and shutting them down is more myth than not (though I believed it when I was an Angeleno), but I haven't found a link directly addressing it yet. This is the best discussion I've found so far online; here's the meat of it:
Many trolley fans feel that the streetcars might have remained, had NCL not existed to acquire them. But it is possible, that it was federal legislation instead that killed the streetcars, and not the NCL conspiracy. Because the streetcars were the earliest heavy users of electricity, it was practical and economical for many streetcar systems to be owned by the electric utility companies themselves. But it was less profitable for the utility companies to provide electricity to the rural areas of America. There were feelings of neglect in rural America, with electricity not yet made available to them. So in 1935, as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "New Deal", federal legislation was passed, ordering the electric utility companies to sell off their businesses not actually providing electricity.

So it became less practical anyway, for the transit systems to continue to use streetcars. And suddenly, these streetcar systems became more readily available for takeover by NCL. The conversion to buses might have occurred anyway, but NCL used illegal practices while carrying out this conversion.
Here's a short history of the trolley system.
posted by languagehat at 8:30 AM on November 18, 2002


Thank you languagehat, I am looking at it now, and trying to find more infor about the LA Trolleys. If this seems snarky, I had to rewrite this after a computer restart:

Yeah, its not like anything like crowds will get in your way or slow you down. You could also use a bicycle instead of a big, gratuitous, expensive machine.

Please reread my post where I agree that Segway is probably not useful in Manhattan due to agreement on the crowds. Your allegiance to the bicycle is admirable, but resorting to one form of transportation is the same mind set those who advocate only light-rail, only cars, only monorail, etc. They are out there, and this is part of the reason we are at this point in time. It takes a varied amount of types of transportation in the city, and the Segway can fill a niche. Why the vitriol? Do you like being yelled at by cars, because I never like it either. Same mindset.

I do not think there was an overriding conspiracy to move the populace to the suburbs. But there were many individuals, [and yes] corporations, and government officials who pushed for suburbanization and cars. See Norman Bel Geddes and his work for General Motors, especially "Highways and Horizons" at the New York World's Fair [1964]. America does money-making very well, and all of these organizations were bent on that [as they should - I need money to eat too] but you have to put things in perspective. The choices of those before us and the choices we make all affect our urban form, and the popular culture reflects this. Look at movies: As you can see, from this small selection, Hollywood has gone from pure suburban propaganda to questioning [tangentially] suburbia. Context, context, context. Even zoning laws in this country work on segregation of different building types and uses. All of these examples build up a case in which we have a self-reinforcing need for the car and the suburb, in which any alternative is a pinko-commie plot.
posted by plemeljr at 9:33 AM on November 18, 2002


I live in the 'burbs. I'm thirty or so minutes from downtown, depending on route, congestion, and time of commute. However, I'm less than two miles from the grocery store, the bookstore, the deli, the hardware store, the pub, and other necessary establishments. In order to reach any of these places, I have to drive. Why? Because there are no sidewalks, no bike paths, no crosswalks, no way AT ALL for me to reach any of these places without risking life and limb. Public transportation? Forget it. Doesn't exist. I'd love to be able to walk to the store and back, but the Powers That Be have decided that it's more important to develop another tract of three hundred "garden homes" in a nearby flood-plain than build a few sidewalks.

Segway? Who cares? It's a cool machine, and if I were walking a route as a postman I'd probably be delighted by it, but where I am there is no existing pedestrian infrastructure, so the machine is irrelevant.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:08 AM on November 18, 2002


I love living in NYC. Cars tend to be the slowest way to get where you're going -- there's the congestion situation, but also the bigger problem of parking once you get to where you're going. I drove a van =one day= in Queens, and I'm never doing that again.

But back to the Segway. I don't think NYC sidewalks are big enough to accomodate such things. It's bad enough with the people who don't know how to =walk= without pushing people over or poking people in the eye with their umbrellas -- besides, there's congestion on many sidewalks as well. You'd never get up to 15 mph on the sidewalks of Broadway. And would they go through subway turnstiles easily? You don't want to wait to get the attention of the guy in the plastic box to open the gate for you.

But then, NYC already has mass transit that lots of people use. I can see cities where most people rely on cars being a good place for these suckers, as the sidewalks should be more clear.
posted by meep at 1:30 PM on November 18, 2002


Thank you, Yogurt, for the very informative links about the Ginger/IT hype. I'm a bit embarrassed to have tarred Kamen with the blame, when those links make it fairly clear he wasn't the one driving most (any?) of the hype.

This thread has turned out great, btw. I've been meaning to look into the "auto companies killed mass transit" accusation for a while now; I'll keep the above links handy when I do. My initial bias is that it's hardly beyond the pale to suggest that wealthy corporations might have played a major role in setting social policy in favor of the automobile over trolleys and trains.
posted by mediareport at 3:18 PM on November 18, 2002


The real question is, is Thomas Edison smarter than Spock?
posted by Hildago at 6:30 PM on November 20, 2002


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