Dean Kamen

Dean Kamen
Dean Kamen
  • From:

    DEKA Research and Development Corporation | Manchester, New Hampshire

  • Year:


  • Subject:

    Mechanical Engineering

  • Award:

    Benjamin Franklin Medal

  • Citation:

    For his resourcefulness and imagination in creating mechanical devices that broadly benefit society and enable people with disabilities to improve their quality of life and health.

Never traditional and always thoughtfully creative, Dean Kamen has forged his own completely unique path through the world to become a technological innovator and creative inventor that some have dubbed "the 21st Century Benjamin Franklin." Much like his predecessor, Kamen's ideas and inventions have significantly impacted humanity, revolutionizing fields from medicine to personal transportation. He already holds more than 440 patents.

From an early age growing up in New York, Kamen was restlessly impatient with the conventional ways of doing things. Instead of dutifully following the prescribed curriculum in high school, he preferred to follow his own intellectual muse, poring over Newton's Principia Mathematica rather than doing his homework. Instead of worrying about making the honor roll, Kamen kept busy with a lucrative sideline of designing sound and light systems for museums, planetariums, and even the New Year's Eve celebration on Times Square. He may be the only high school student in history who earned a higher income than both of his parents even before his graduation.

Despite his extracurricular preoccupations, Kamen managed to graduate high school and entered Worcester Polytechnic Institute, but again soon found traditional academics an unnecessary distraction from his own creative ideas. While he was still an undergraduate, a stray remark by his medical student brother led Kamen to consider the plight of patients who needed regular infusions of medication, every 24 hours. Could they somehow be freed of the necessity of constant hospital visits? Kamen's answer was his invention of the AutoSyringe, a device that patients could conveniently wear for timed injections of their medications. The AutoSyringe was so successful that Kamen left college to found a company to sell the device. Several years later, he sold the company to health-care conglomerate Baxter International, becoming a millionaire—still without a college diploma.

While others who had achieved such success in their mid-20s might be content to rest on those considerable laurels, Kamen saw it as only the beginning. Under the aegis of his own company, DEKA Research and Development, he went on to create other devices to help medical patients and those with disabilities, including the iBOT mobility system, an automated wheelchair that can operate on almost any terrain and even climb stairs. He invented a portable kidney dialysis machine no bigger than a phone book, a revolutionary water purification process and most recently, a new upper-extremity prosthesis capable of dexterity and performance almost as sophisticated as the human arm, which promises to change the lives of countless amputees and disabled veterans.

Mr. Kamen's most famous invention is no doubt the Segway, the personal mobility transporter he developed, building upon the stabilization and control concepts previous created for the iBOT. While it may not have quite replaced walking or the automobile as some overenthusiastic visionaries predicted upon its introduction, the Segway has found its own unique niche and is being employed for a range of jobs by everyone from tourists to security guards. It has also provided a new personal mobility option for those physically-challenged individuals who may not be wheelchair limited, but need some assistance getting around.

As someone who was himself entranced by science at an early age, Mr. Kamen is equally dedicated to the nonprofit he founded—FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization whose mission, since 1989, is to encourage students interested in science and technology. FIRST sponsors local, regional and celebrated national robot-building contests for students of all ages, from elementary school to high school. Using LEGO kits (for the younger teams) and mechanical and electronic parts (for the high schoolers), student teams excitedly use science, technology, engineering, and math to solve challenging robotics questions, build robots and compete for their communities, scholarships and, of course, bragging rights. Despite his collection of transformative inventions and touted accomplishments, Kamen still considers FIRST to be his proudest creation.

With all the awards and accolades that have come his way, Mr. Kamen shows no signs of slowing down—in fact, he's speeding up. His latest projects include the development of a new type of Stirling engine to be used for inexpensive water purification, and possibly solve the developing world issue of clean water, thereby greatly reducing disease and mortality. Only Dean Kamen himself can predict what wonders he will come up with next. But it remains certain that, as with all his other creations, Mr. Kamen's next marvel will be both wildly imaginative and conceived with a burning ambition to significantly enhance human life, especially for those most in need.

Information as of April 2011