Dean Kamen is an American scientist and inventor whose products include the Segway human transporter (HT) and the iBOT battery-powered wheelchair. His inventions include medical devices and futuristic gizmos that Kamen hopes will revolutionize the way we live and travel.
In 1989, Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a robotics competition for high school students. In 2007, it held 37 competitions in countries such as Israel, Brazil, Canada, and the United States.
Kamen is the President of DEKA Research and Development.
Kamen was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1997 for his biomedical devices and for making engineering more popular among high school students. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000 by then President Clinton for inventions that have advanced medical care worldwide. In 2002, Kamen was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize for inventors, for his invention of the Segway and of an infusion pump for diabetics. In 2005 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his invention of the AutoSyringe. In 2006 Kamen was awarded the Global Humanitarian Action Award by the United Nations.
Question: What was your first invention as a child?
Dean Kamen: The first thing that I actually remember creating as an invention wasn’t a big seller. I was probably five or six years old. My mother, as most mothers, thought it was a good idea that everyday I get out of bed and make the bed.
Well, I am small even today, but certainly for a six year old, I was particularly small. I could barely see over the side of that bed and running to one corner and tagging on the covers and then running to the other corner and tugging on the cover and if I tugged too far, running back to the first. It takes a lot of time and effort to run around that bed.
And I quickly learn that, for instance, if my old brother helped me, it wasn’t twice as fast as two of us. It was virtually instant because we can each be at one end of the bed, tugging on the cover. It’s taut, you let it go, it’s done.
It was sort of like learning for the first time you can pull a noodle but you can’t push a noodle.
It occurred to me that without his help, I could still in effect be pulling simultaneously from both ends if I could just, for instance, put a little pulley at the other end of the bed frame, put a knot in the end of the cover of the bedspread with a rope around it, come back to the other end and if the pulleys are all right, I could get out of bed, stand in one place, pull on a couple of ropes and everything was taut, the bed was made.
So I have an automatic bed maker. It wasn’t a big seller.
Conducted on: June 9, 2009.