Dean Kamen looks at the world a bit differently than the rest of us: He sees things that are not there. Not in the supernatural or hallucinatory sense, but in the sense that where there is an innovation gap, he looks to fill it.
As an inventor, Kamen develops processes and products that change the way people think and go about their daily lives. Kamen holds more than 440 US and foreign patents, many of them for ground-breaking medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide.
While still a college undergraduate in the early 1970's, he invented the first wearable infusion pump, which rapidly gained acceptance from such diverse medical specialties as chemotherapy, neonatology and endocrinology. In 1976, Kamen founded his first medical device company, AutoSyringe, Inc., to manufacture and market the pumps, eventually selling it to Baxter International Corporation. By then, he had created a number of other infusion devices, including the first insulin pump for diabetics.
Following the sale of AutoSyringe, Inc., Kamen founded DEKA Research & Development Corporation to cultivate ideas, foster innovation and invention as well as provide R&D for major corporate clients. Breakthrough projects include the HomeChoice™ portable dialysis machine and the Independence® iBOT® 4000 Mobility System, a battery powered mobility device that can traverse almost any terrain effortlessly—from curbs to steps, sand to stones. Arguably his most publicized invention is the Segway® HT, an electric scooter that provides a clean alternative for short distance travel. Today, Kamen continues work on a power generating Stirling engine and water purification system—two essential life-enabling devices for developing countries. And while this distinct type of ingenuity has kept Kamen's name in the spotlight of invention, it's his tireless advocacy of science and technology that makes him heroic.
More than ten years ago, Kamen founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), and has remained its driving force, its guiding spirit, and, in the eyes of thousands of school children across the country, its personal embodiment. FIRST employs marketing and media techniques to motivate students to want to learn about science and technology. Kamen has personally recruited scores of the top leaders of American industry, education and government in this crusade. Last year, more than 7,500 middle schools participated in FIRST's "little league" program, the FIRST Lego League. The FIRST Robotics Competition had more than 1,100 high school teams competing in 33 regional competitions across the U.S. , and the National Championship was held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
In addition to his own attempts to master science and technology, Kamen has received significant public recognition for his crusade on behalf of science and engineering. He was, for example, labeled by Smithsonian Magazine "The Pied Piper of Technology" and profiled by the New York Times as "A New Kind of Hero for American Youth". Among the honors received by Kamen: The Kilby Award, which celebrates those who make extraordinary contributions to society; the Heinz Award in Technology, the Economy and Employment; and the National Medal of Technology, awarded by President Clinton in 2000 for inventions that have advanced medical care worldwide, and for innovative and imaginative leadership in awakening America to the excitement of science and technology. Kamen was also awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize in 2002, is a member of the National Academy of Engineers and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in May 2005.
Early 70's: Kamen drops out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to develop a portable infusion pump
1976: AutoSyringe, Inc., Kamen's first medical device company, is founded
1982: After selling AutoSyringe, Inc., Kamen launches DEKA, a small group of individuals with big ideas
1989: Kamen founds FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) an organization that aspires to transform culture, by inspiring kids, their schools and communities to understand, use and appreciate science and technology
2002: Kamen is awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize
2005: Kamen is inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame