Celebrating the independent kiwi spirit of invention.

Research Topic: Ginger - What is IT?

By Ian Mander, 12 January 2001. Second page 19 January 2001.

Question: I've heard about something supposedly revolutionary, bigger than the Internet that's code-named IT and/or Ginger. What is Ginger?

Answer: Ginger supposedly is a new invention. Only a handful of people actually know for sure at this point, but it'll be announced in 2002. So sit tight, or read on for some factual information, some shear speculation, and a background on the inventor.

The Little We Know

Harvard Business School Press executive editor Hollis Heimbouch has just paid $250,000 for a book about IT -- but neither the editor nor the agent, Dan Kois of The Sagalyn Literary Agency, knows what IT is.

All they do know: IT, also code-named Ginger, is an invention developed by 49-year-old scientist Dean Kamen, and the subject of a planned book by journalist Steve Kemper. According to Kemper's proposal, IT will change the world, and is so extraordinary that it has drawn the attention of technology visionaries Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs and the investment dollars of pre-eminent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, among others.

Other Clues

  • IT is not a medical invention. (This is significant considering Dean Kamen's invention history.)
  • In a private meeting with Bezos, Jobs and Doerr, Kamen assembled two Gingers -- or ITs -- in 10 minutes, using a screwdriver and hex wrenches from components that fit into a couple of large duffel bags and some cardboard boxes.
  • The invention has a fun element to it, because once a Ginger was turned on, Jeff Bezos started laughing his "loud, honking laugh."
  • There are possibly two Ginger models, named Metro and Pro -- and the Metro may possibly cost less than $2,000.
  • Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying that IT "is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problem selling it. The question is, are people going to be allowed to use it?"
  • Steve Jobs is quoted as saying: "If enough people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen."
  • Steve Kemper says the invention will ''sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking.''

Ideas for what IT is include a never-ending power supply and a personal hovercraft (perhaps anti-gravity). It may be based on one of Dean Kamen's iBots - an off-road robot for climbing stairs, going over rocks, etc. A friend noted that the price of paladium "doubled overnight" at around the same time the Ginger story came out.

From an article in Wired magazine (with emphasis added):

When he watched a man in a wheelchair try to negotiate a curb in the late '80s, Kamen wondered whether he could build a chair that would hop curbs without losing its balance. After $50 million and eight years in development, the Ibot Transporter - a six-wheeled robotic "mobility system" that can climb stairs, traverse sandy and rocky terrain, and raise its user to eye-level with a standing person - is undergoing FDA trials, and should be available by 2001, at a cost of [US]$20,000. That may sound high, but keep in mind that the Ibot erases the need to retrofit a home for a wheelchair. Plus, mobility system is if anything an understatement: In June, Kamen saddled up his Ibot and climbed the stairs from a Paris Métro station to the restaurant level of the Eiffel Tower - then promptly called John Doerr on his cell phone.

John Doerr. Now where have we heard that name before? Thee article continues

Lately, Kamen has broadened his work beyond health care. He believes technology and ingenuity can solve all kinds of social ills - like pollution, limited access to electricity, and contaminated water in many third-world countries, where bacteria from human feces in drinking water is a leading cause of cholera. To help ameliorate the water problem, Deka's team of 170 engineers is working on a nonpolluting engine - funded by several million dollars of Kamen's own money - based on a concept first floated in the early 1800s but never realized.

The device is called the Stirling engine; Kamen hopes it can be developed into an affordable, portable machine that will run a water purifier/power generator that could zap contaminated H20 with a UV laser to make it safe for drinking. "It can burn any fuel, and you can do all kinds of things with it," he says. "It might be very valuable in emerging economies, giving them access to electricity, even the Net."

But these may be completely unrelated, as the very next paragraph in the article is:

Another project, to be unveiled in the next year, will necessitate building "the largest company in New Hampshire," Kamen says with characteristic bravura. He's shy about details, except to say it involves a consumer device unrelated to health care and will require $100 million in financing. Among the investors: Kleiner Perkins.

And how much is Ginger worth? Check out this quote:

Investment bank Credit Suisse First Boston expects that IT can generate more in its first year than any start-up ever, which would make Kamen richer than Bill Gates (news - web sites) within five years, according to details of the proposal reported by

Dean Kamen - Inventor

A 49 year old (as of early 2001) inventor and entrepreneur who holds over 100 patents, Dean Kamen is currently the president of DEKA Research and Development Corp. in New Hampshire. He has been decribed as "a brilliant inventor, an engineer, a physicist, and a walking encyclopedia of nearly all the physical and biological sciences."

He was a third-year undergraduate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute when he invented the world's first wearable medical infusion pump; at age 25, he formed his first corporation (1976); at age 31, he sold his product rights and became a multi-millionaire (1982).

His other inventions include the first portable insulin pump and a portable kidney dialysis machine (weighing roughly 10kg and about the size of a phone book) that in 1993 earned him Design News' award for "Medical Product of the Year."

In 1994 he was a Kilby Laureate, and was a joint recipient of the Hoover Medal in 1995. In 1998 he won the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment. The National Medal of Technology was awarded to him in December 2000 by President Clinton (see picture below). He currently has three honourary doctorates.

(Honourary Dr Dr Dr) Dean Kamen demonstrating his amazing iBot wheelchair to President Clinton. Yep, only two of his six wheels are touching the ground, and he's very stable in that position. The chair automatically balances so if he talks animatedly with his hands - not a problem. He also showed (on Dateline, June 2000) that he could catch a 25lb (11.3kg) lead weight and not tip over. Pretty impressive.

Since 1982 Kamen has followed a two-fold career of invention and education. In 1985 he founded SEE (Science Enrichment Encounters) an interactive science learning center in Manchester, New Hampshire. In 1989 he founded U.S. FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a non-profit organization dedicated to motivating the next generation by making science and technology appealing. The U.S. FIRST Competition joined high school students with intense, made-for-television sporting events, thus combining the excitement of competition with the challenge of creative design and engineering.  

Proceed to find out what Ginger probably really is.

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