[EAS]That's IT? A Scooter?
pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Dec 3 18:52:57 EST 2001
Subject: That's IT? A Scooter?
Dear Colleagues -
At the very beginning of 2001 the intimations of a new technological
breakthrough caused feverish speculation in the business and technical
press. (Below I appended an article of the time from Insider
The public relations angle of extreme secrecy on the one hand, and
endorsement from a number of luminaries on the other, was about as
much as one could do to make a new technological product and its
inventor get noticed. And the luminaries didn't mind getting noticed
either. And Harvard Business School Press apparently paid $250K for a
book advance about It, without even knowing what It was.
Well, slightly ahead of the originally proposed revelation in 2002
come long-awaited details (the cnet.com story also has a picture):
> (from NewsScan Daily, 3 December 2001)
> GOODBYE GINGER, HELLO SEGWAY!
> The top-secret IT invention that has kept the high-tech world guessing
> for the past year has been unveiled: Segway, as it's called, is a
> self-balancing, motorized scooter that costs less than 5 cents a day
> to operate. Inventor Dean Kamen says the device, which tops out at
> 17mph, could be used to zip around crowded downtown areas and could
> eventually replace cars in congested cities, particularly in
> developing nations such as China. Segway uses a complex array of
> gyroscopes and computers to mimic the human body's sense of balance,
> and responds to the rider's weight-shifting with corresponding
> movements -- users lean forward to move forward, and back to reverse
> course. Turns are accomplished with a twist of a handle. "The big
> idea is to put a human being into a system where the machine acts as
> an extension of your body," says Kamen. Kamen's company, Segway Co.,
> plans to introduce a consumer model for $3,000 within a year and the
> U.S. Postal Service says it will test the device for its letter
> carriers. Amazon also plans to test Segway for use in its warehouses.
> (Reuters/CNet 2 Dec 2001)
I must admit it sounds like a fun device and would be a great robotics
project for an engineering student team at a time when most such
projects are unexciting and predictable extrapolations of existing
On the other hand, it is unlikely to live up to its original
predictions: that urban planning will be transformed by this device,
that it will be the most important advance since the Internet, that
Mr. Kaman will eclipse Bill Gate's wealth in five years.
Still, maybe Mr. Kamen is on to something. I never did learn how to
roller-blade--this might open up new possibilities for me. Note though
that like the majority of engineering advances the user exercises less
rather than more in using it. I await further development with
All best, --Peter Kindlmann
(from Insider.com Magazine, 1/9/01)
What Is 'IT'? Book Proposal Heightens Intrigue About Secret Invention
Touted as Bigger Than the Internet or PC
Steve Jobs quoted on accomplished scientist's new device: 'If enough
people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect
cities around it. It'll just happen.' A venerable press pays $250,000
for a book on project cloaked in unprecedented secrecy. EXCLUSIVE
Tuesday , January 09, 2001 01:43 p.m.
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.
Kemper -- who has been published in Smithsonian, National Geographic
and Outside among others -- has had exclusive access to Kamen and the
engineers at his New Hampshire-based research and development company,
DEKA, for the past year and a half. He tags the proposed book as Soul
of the New Machine meets The New New Thing and won over his agent and
publisher with e-mails describing the project in carefully couched
language. He also included an amusing narrative of a meeting between
Bezos, Jobs, Doerr and Kamen.
The invention itself is as interesting as the inventor. Kamen is 'a
true eccentric, cantankerous and opinionated, a great character,' the
proposal says, with large gaps when it comes to pop culture.In the
proposal, Doerr calls Kamen -- who was just awarded the National Medal
of Technology, the country's highest such award -- a combination of
Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Doerr also says, a touch ominously, that
he had been sure that he wouldn't see the development of anything in
his lifetime as important as the World Wide Web -- until he saw IT.
According to the proposal, another investor, Credit Suisse First
Boston, expects Kamen's invention to make more money in its first year
than any start-up in history, predicting Kamen will be worth more in
five years than Bill Gates. Jobs told Kamen the invention would be as
significant as the PC, the proposal says.
And though there are no specifics in the proposal as to what the
invention is, there are some tantalizing clues. Is IT an energy
source? Some sort of environmentally friendly personal transport
device? One editor who saw the proposal went as far as to speculate --
jokingly (perhaps) -- that IT was a type of personal hovering craft.
Consider the following items, culled from the proposal:
* IT is not a medical invention.
* 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, 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.
* 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?"
* 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
* Kemper says the invention will "sweep over the world and change
lives, cities, and ways of thinking."
* The "core technology and its implementations" will, according to
Kamen, "have a big, broad impact not only on social institutions but
some billion-dollar old-line companies." And the invention will
"profoundly affect our environment and the way people live worldwide.
It will be an alternative to products that are dirty, expensive,
sometimes dangerous and often frustrating, especially for people in
* IT will be a mass-market consumer product "likely to run afoul of
existing regulations and or inspire new ones," according to Kemper.
The invention will also likely require "meeting with city planners,
regulators, legislators, large commercial companies and university
presidents about how cities, companies and campuses can be
retro-fitted for Ginger."
The invention itself is as interesting as the inventor. Kamen -- "a
true eccentric, cantankerous and opinionated, a great character,"
according to the proposal -- dropped out of college in his 20s, then
invented the first drug infusion pump; he later created the first
portable insulin pump and dialysis machine.
Kamen, an avid aviator who commutes via a helicopter, is also the
founder of FIRST -- For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and
Technology -- a nonprofit organization that encourages young people to
pursue studies and careers in math and science. He's a single man
obsessed with his work and out of touch with popular culture.
According to the proposal, Kamen was seated at a White House dinner
next to two people he'd never heard of: Shirley MacLaine and Warren
Kamen's most recent invention is the iBot, an off-road wheelchair that
can climb stairs, cover sand and gravel and rise to balance on two
wheels. A prototype iBot was showcased by wheelchair-bound journalist
John Hockenberry at last year's TED conference in Monterrey, Calif.;
the demonstration was greeted by wild applause.
IT/Ginger won't be revealed until 2002, the proposal says. No one has
seen the project except Kamen, Kemper, the engineers and the investors
-- which include Doerr, a partner in the venture capital firm of
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which helped launch Netscape,
Amazon, Juniper Networks, Excite, and @Home, among others; and Michael
Schmertzler, managing director of Credit Suisse First Boston. Others
who have seen the invention and signed confidentiality agreements
include minor investors Paul Allaire, CEO of Xerox; and Vern Loucks,
recently retired CEO of Baxter. Bezos, Jobs and writer/venture
capitalist Randy Komisar sit on the advisory board. Kamen retains 85
percent of his new company, according to the proposal.
Why the secrecy? Kamen fears, as he states in a letter to Kemper that
is included in the proposal, that "huge corporations" might catch wind
of the invention and "use their massive resources to erect obstacles
against us or, worse, simply appropriate the technology by assigning
hundreds of engineers to catch up to us, and thousands of employees to
produce it in their plants."
But such secrecy may have been enough to turn publishers away. "The
Internet changed the world, too" said one editor who considered the
project, "but books about it don't really sell." As for the
quarter-million-dollar price tag for North American rights: on the one
hand, it doesn't seem to be a lot for a book about an invention which
has mesmerized such well-known technology moguls. On the other,
$250,000 is a lot to pay for a story about a product that hasn't been
seen, defined or named.
"We were well aware of Kamen," says book editor Heimbouch, who says
she's been publishing in this technology circle for a long time." (The
bestselling The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley
Entrepreneur by Komisar is hers.) So jumping on board for the book
wasn't such a dilemma. Besides, says Heimbouch, Harvard Business
School Press had intended to approach Kamen about doing a book anyway.
"He's an inventor of great technologies that make people's lives
better," she says.
Harvard Business School Press, a division of Harvard Business School
Publishing, is a wholly owned, nonprofit subsidiary of Harvard
University. The Sagalyn Agency retains all but North American rights
to the book.
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