The Segway’s Inventor Has a New Project: Manufacturing Human Organs
When the FDA approves lab-grown human organs for patients, Dean Kamen wants to be ready to mass-produce them
This past January, the umpteenth version of the Segway Personal Transporter whisked attendees around in its white, egg-shaped seat at CES, the huge annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. Called the Segway S-Pod, it drew comparisons to the hover-chairs in Wall-E that shuttled around people so out of shape and blob-like, they’d forgotten how to stand.
This is not how Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway almost 20 years ago, imagined his legacy.
Kamen was inspired to create a device like the Segway in the early ’90s, when he noticed a young man who’d lost his legs in a wheelchair at the mall. It seemed like everywhere Kamen went that night, he bumped into the guy, seeing him unable to get over a curb or reach a high shelf at Radio Shack, too low to be noticed in line at the ice cream counter. Kamen had already been thinking about how to help the disabled. “And I just decided, you know what?” he says. “I’m going to solve that problem.”
It took Kamen years to create a wheelchair with gyroscopic stabilizers, computer chips, tilt sensors, and special wheel clusters that could rear the chair on its hind wheels, allowing users to “walk” at eye-level with the able-bodied. Then, when he realized he could apply the same technology to the standing masses, his ambition grew. He believed the new device, which he called Ginger (after Ginger Rogers) and eventually renamed the Segway, would transform cities, replacing cars and their pollution with residents gliding down green streets, each one on a Segway. By the time the device actually launched, in December 2001, on a Good Morning America special, hype around Kamen and this vision reached a peak, complete with rumors from a leaked book proposal that Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs both expected the Segway would be the next big thing. Shortly before its release, Kamen told Time magazine the device would “be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy.”
That never happened. Instead, the Segway became a regular feature of no-longer-walking tours and mall security, and Kamen moved on. In 2009…