Dean Kamen Biography * Segway * First Institute * My Portfolio Display
Dean Kamen is a leading American scientist and inventor whose products include the Segway human transporter (HT) and the iBOT battery-powered wheelchair. His numerous inventions include medical devices and futuristic gizmos that Kamen hopes will revolutionize the way we live and travel. Whenever Kamen introduces a new product, people take notice, and they eagerly anticipate the next one. His newest creation? A nonpolluting, low-power water-purifying system designed for use in underdeveloped countries. Time magazine called it one of the “coolest inventions of 2003.”
A modern-day Edison
Dean Kamen was born in 1951, in Rockville Center, Long Island, New York. His father, Jack, was an illustrator for Weird Science and Mad comic books; his mother, Evelyn, was a teacher. Kamen began tinkering with gadgets when he was fairly young. He claims that when he was five years old he invented a way to make his bed without running from one side to the other.
However, despite the fact that he was obviously bright and very curious, Kamen did not do well in school. His grades in junior high and high school were only average, and Kamen often found himself at odds with his teachers. This is an experience that many creative people seem to go through. For example, Thomas Edison (1847–1931), who developed the electric light bulb and the phonograph, attended school for a grand total of three months. His teachers considered him to be a slow learner. Instead Edison was taught by his mother at home, where he thrived, reading every book he could get his hands on. Like Edison, Kamen was (and still is) an avid reader of science texts.
By the time he was a teenager, Kamen was being paid for his inventions, most of which he built in his parents’ basement. He was hired by local rock bands and museums to design and install light and sound systems. He was even asked to work on automating the giant ball that is lowered in Times Square each year on New Year’s Eve. Before he graduated from high school, Kamen was earning about $60,000 a year, which was more than the salaries of both his parents combined.
“If you start to do things you’ve never done before, you’re probably going to fail at least some of the time. And I say that’s OK.”
After high school Kamen attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, but again he was more interested in inventing than attending classes. It was during his early years at WPI that Kamen developed the first of his many medical breakthroughs. His older brother, Barton, who was in medical school, commented to him that patients who needed round-the-clock medication were forced to come into the hospital for treatment. Kamen decided to fix the problem. He came up with the AutoSyringe, a portable device that could be worn by patients and that administered doses of medication. As a result, patients were able to enjoy some freedom.
In 1976 Kamen left Worcester Polytechnic (without graduating) and founded his own company, called AutoSyringe, to sell his medication device. The medical community embraced the AutoSyringe, and among scientists Kamen soon gained a reputation as a maverick inventor. In 1982 Kamen sold AutoSyringe to Baxter International, an international health-care company. The sale made him a multimillionaire.
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