As an inventor, Kamen holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices. He was responsible for the first wearable infusion pump and the first wearable insulin pump for diabetics. Some of the many devices he’s worked on include the HomeChoice peritoneal dialysis system, the Hydroflex surgical irrigation pump, the Crown stent, which he developed for Johnson & Johnson, the iBOT mobility device (an all-terain wheelchair that climbs stairs), and the famous Segway Human Transporter. He founded his first medical device company, pump manufacturer and marketer AutoSyringe Inc., in 1976. At age 30 he sold AutoSyringe to Baxter Healthcare and founded DEKA soon after to develop its own inventions and conduct R&D for corporate clients.
|A veteran uses DEKA's prosthetic arm. |
“I've never gone to work for a company, but in the end it was the right decision for me” he says. He likes taking his own lead and credits much of it for a distaste for authority that started at home. His mother, Evelyn, was a schoolteacher, and his father, Jack, was an illustrator who worked for EC Comics in the 50s, illustrating famed horror comics like Tales from the Crypt. If you look up the artistic renderings for the Segway patent, those are Jack Kamen's work.
“I've never gotten a paycheck because, frankly, as a young kid, at 5 years old, I didn't like my parents telling me what to do. I didn't like teachers telling me what to do. I couldn't imagine getting a job and thinking that because somebody's paying me they get to tell me what to do,” Kamen says.
“I figured if I started a business I could make things and if nobody wants them the Darwinian system of capitalism will win and I will fail and have to try something else. On the other hand, I assumed if I could create fair value I would be able to make things on my own terms, of my own design, offer them to the world, and let history decide whether I was crazy or not.” Kamen says that for him things like letter grades, or requirements from a boss or company have always felt arbitrary–something that doesn't create or indicate real value. “I would rather go out and try on my own and if I fail at least I blame myself. If I succeed, I succeed on my own and that to me is the challenge that's the excitement of life.”
Coming from most people this might soudn like a platitude, but you can tell from the nonchalance in his voice that Kamen means it. There's a fearlessness his approach that makes you feel like there's nothing he believes is out of his reach. In fact, you have to reach into the staples of science fiction to find the only technology that Kamen would like to create but believes will be out of reach in his lifetime–time travel.
“I'd love to develop a time machine, and I mean a real H.G. Wells, Jules Verne classic science fiction time machine. You sit in it, the lights flash, you pick a date, and you pop up and talk to Albert Einstein or Archimedes or Galileo. Or you go forward 100 years to see how those people ended up addressing all the problems that we were stymied by.”
Kamen say he would love to be able to talk to the greats of the past and see the reality of the future. And, as he goes off to his next appointment, a more practical and personal use for a time machine becomes apparent that maybe even the superstar inventor hasn't considered. “I don't give all of [my projects] as much attention as they deserve and need,” he says when asked about balancing his workload.
There are only so many hours in a day after all.
|Dean Kamen will be awarded a Lifetime Achievement award at the 2014 MDEA Awards as part of MD&M East, June 11, 2014|