Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Portable Medical Technology and
Human Transportation Technology
Inventor Dean Kamen has forged a career with two separate, but equally important, goals: to improve the lives of others through technology and innovation, and to promote opportunities in science, engineering and invention to young people through education.
Creator of such breakthrough products as the portable peritoneal dialysis machine, the stair-climbing Independence IBOT Mobility System and the Segway Human Transporter, Kamen continues to break ground in fields as diverse as medicine, transportation, environmental science and robotics.
Born April 5, 1951, in Rockville Center, New York, Kamen studied engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, but he left before completing his degree. During his sophomore year he became interested in medical technologies, inspired by his brother's experiences in medical school. He began working on a problem with drug delivery, specifically, how to enable controlled drug delivery over long periods of time. The result of his effort was a pocket-sized, wearable, programmable infusion pump that delivered small, accurate doses of medicine, such as insulin. The device allowed patients who were accustomed to being confined to become mobile and live normal lives. In particular, it allowed diabetic women to deliver babies without great risk.
The medical community quickly adopted the infusion pumps for use with a variety of medical conditions. Kamen founded his own firm, AutoSyringe, Inc., to manufacture and market the systems; he sold the firm to Baxter International Corp. in 1981.
That year, Kamen started DEKA Research & Development Corp., a core institution for his ideas and research. With DEKA, Kamen created a portable kidney dialysis machine that earned him Design News' award for "Medical Product of the Year" in 1993. Regulating flow by controlled air pressure rather than by counting drops in a drip chamber, it uses a minimum of moving parts. The result is a device virtually flawless, but portable, disposable, and affordable; in fact, diabetics can now dialyze at home while they sleep.
Among the many other notable inventions launched by DEKA are the Hydroflex Irrigation Pump, an irrigation pumping system; an improved flexible stent; and the Independence IBOT Mobility System, a self-balancing mobility device. Revealed in 1999, the IBOT is a battery-powered wheelchair built from sensors, microprocessors and gyroscopes that allows users to climb stairs, negotiate sand, rocks and curbs. The device can stand upright on two wheels, empowering handicapped people to see and move at eye-level. The IBOT is marketed and sold by Independence Technology, a Johnson and Johnson Company.
More recently, in 2001, Kamen and his team at DEKA unveiled the Segway Human Transporter (HT). The Segway is an electric powered personal transportation machine that moves by shifts in one's body weight. Kamen and his team believe the Segway HT, which now comes in a variety of models, has the potential to improve urban environments by providing an alternative mode of transport for short distance travel which could help reduce pollution and congestion.
Alongside his inventing and business endeavors, Kamen is committed to education for young people. In 1986, he founded Science Enrichment Encounters ("SEE"), an interactive learning center in Manchester, New Hampshire, now visited by 40,000 children per year. And in 1989, he established FIRST ("For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology"), which serves to inspire and motivate young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. The organization conducts an annual, national robotics competition that has become somewhat legendary. It has also launched the FIRST LEGO League competitions.
Kamen, who serves as President of DEKA as of this 2006 writing, has been honored with a variety of awards for his work, including the Kilby Award in 1994, the Hoover Medal in 1995, the Heinz Award in Technology in 1998, and the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2002; he donated his $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize money to FIRST. Kamen was also awarded a National Medal of Technology in 2000, presented by President Clinton; and in 2005 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He holds some 150 U.S. and foreign patents.
Kamen has embarked on yet another type of mission in recent years, with his work to develop a new water treatment system for underdeveloped nations. His energy-efficient system can turn contaminated water into clean water via a distilling process; Kamen maintains that his system has the potential to help solve serious health problems caused by waterborne pathogens around the world.