Dean Kamen is best known as the inventor of the Segway, the electric, two-wheeled self-balancing vehicle. Numerous cities offers guided and self-guided Segway tours, and couriers use them in their daily activities. The vehicle has also become a part of pop culture, popularized by films like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” The Segway, though, is only one of Dean Kamen’s inventions. He has more than 440 patents in the United States and foreign countries. Many of his inventions have revolutionized the medical, science and technology fields.
Kamen invented the first portable drug infusion pump in 1973, a device used in chemotherapy, neonatology and endocrinology. He was still an undergraduate at Worchester Polytechnic Institute at the time. This device led to the invention of diabetic insulin pumps, giving them the freedom to self-medicate themselves when needed. His invention also helped terminally ill patients to give themselves doses of pain killers. In 1976, Kamen founded AutoSyringe, Inc., a medical device company that marketed his pump devices.
Kamen created the Slingshot in 1993, a water purifier powered by a generator that produces 10 gallons of water an hour (1,000 liters of water a day). The low-cost, energy efficient water purifiers distills and condenses water, making any kind of water clean enough for human consumption. Unlike water purifiers designed for personal use, the Slingshot was designed to clean water teeming with disease-causing parasites and microorganisms, ocean water and sewer water. Kamen hopes to bring this invention to Third World countries that lack sufficient drinking water.
First introduced to the public in 2003, the Independence iBOT Mobility System, or iBOT, was designed to give wheelchair-bound individuals more freedom. The wheelchair was designed to traverse different terrains, go up and down stairs, get on and off sidewalks, and go over gravel. Despite its potential ability to give wheelchair-bound people freedom, the chair was a flop because not enough people purchased the chair and the VA and other healthcare providers did not cover it. In addition, it only accommodated people up to 250 pounds, leaving out a significant number of disabled people. It also required a doctor’s prescription and special training to be used.
Kamen began working on a prosthetic arm after he and his DEKA team met with a member of the Department of Defense in 2005. In 2007, he unveiled a prototype of a prosthetic arm, called the Luke Arm, in 2007. Named after the arm given to Luck Skywalker at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the arm was designed to lift up to 40 pounds. The arm was created to connect to nerves that send signals to the brain. The brain would then tell the arm to move.
Dean Kamen’s inventions, successful or not, were designed to make life simple for people, particularly those who suffered from medical conditions. His desires were, and still are, giving everyone the feeling of independence and not live a life marred by their disabilities, as well as reducing elements that could lead to serious health problems. Even in his 50s, Kamen has not stopped working on making other people’s lives better.