Originally Posted by John H. Richardson, Esquire Magazine, November 24, 2008
Here comes Dean Kamen on a Segway, zipping down the hill of his private island like something out of a Bond movie. He floats past his private helicopter. Past his amphibious landing craft. His lighthouse rises up behind him. He's wearing his uniform, the one he wears whether he's tinkering with an engine or visiting the White House: work boots, blue jeans, and a short-sleeved work shirt. He's fifty-seven but still skinny as a ten-year-old, with a lean face and full head of Superman hair. He wears a dead-serious expression as he's perched up there on his electric gizmo, even looks a bit regal, which is sort of appropriate when you consider the rules of his alternate universe -- on his tiny private island off the coast of Connecticut, he's not just the man who invented the Segway and the stair-climbing wheelchair called the iBOT and the first portable dialysis machine and a new water filter called the Slingshot that could literally change the world, if he could only get the $@#$@#$@#$@# world to cooperate. He's also Lord Dumpling, leader of the Empire of North Dumpling. Dumpie to his friends. He sort of seems serious about this, in a whimsical way, and now Lord Dumpling sweeps right by on his royal scooter, heading down to the landing to greet his guests from America.
He has seceded from the United States, you see, having notified the president himself, and Kamen's vision of better living through technology is under assault from the usual gaggle of small minds. As his guests clamber off the boat and walk down the dock to greet Dumpling, two clean-cut young engineer types rush out of the bushes waving signs that say COALITION AGAINST TECHNOLOGY and GREEN IS FOR WIMPS.
"Protesters," Kamen says, the same benighted fools who failed to immediately ban cars and change the way cities are designed to welcome the Segway.
As the protesters drop their signs and go back to work, his bemused guests follow him up the hill, past a sign reading DUMP DUMPIE IN '08, plodding like mere humans as Kamen glides along beside them.
When they reach the house, a flawlessly renovated caretaker's cottage built around the lighthouse, Kamen urges them to enjoy the catered lunch and slips off to join his eighty-three-year-old mother. As he will be happy to tell you, he rarely eats lunch and hasn't had breakfast in thirty years. Unless someone reminds him, he can go two or three days without eating anything at all.
He emerges again when the guests, thirty in all, gather in the living room, an elegant little space with views of Long Island Sound from every window. "My people told me, Dean, keep it simple," he begins. "Unfortunately, my greatest asset is ADD."
The man is small in stature, has a slight Long Island lilt, and tends to speak in italics. He's attracted a curious and enthusiastic group of scientists and business leaders to have them participate in transforming North Dumpling into the greenest nation on earth, and create a proof-of-concept center for all of Kamen's wild ideas.
And off he goes, proving his point with a dizzying mixture of dreams and statistics. "And remember, you can't leave. I run the boats. I run the helicopter. It's no coincidence we're on an island." So, item one: Welcome to the first completely green nation in the world. Welcome to the first carbon-neutral nation in the world. You're here because you understand that advanced technology is not only better for the environment but that it's cool products, not clunky cars and harsh lights but sweet LEDs like the ones flashing overhead right now -- see that rainbow of colors pulsing in sequence? Isn't that cool? They won't be commercially available until 2009! You're the first to see them! It takes just 90 watts to replace 1,200 watts of regular lights! The Dumplonian Empire has zero tolerance for filaments!
But wait, let's introduce everybody. Here's a guy from Philips who won the National Inventor of the Year Award. The LEDs are his babies. Here's another guy who's inventing giant kites that will produce megawatts of power -- really big kites. Here's a woman who planned the biggest charity event in history, pulling in $71 million in a single night for the Robin Hood Foundation. And the former chief technology officer at Goldman Sachs. And a guy from a little company called Coca-Cola. And a guy from another little company called Wal-Mart. "We were worried he wouldn't feel comfortable, so, for the first time, the Dumplonian Empire granted a commercial variance so they could have a store here." Of course, one of their superstores is larger than the whole empire, so Kamen gave them a three-inch-by-three-inch plot, appropriately scaled to the tiny island.
But where were we? Oh yeah, the green nation. That business started six weeks ago, when the Coast Guard cut the cable to North Dumpling. They only maintained the cable to run the lighthouse and now they're running it on photovoltaics, so Kamen had the option of crying in his beer or making lemons into lemonade, which is when he decided to deploy the Slingshot. The "sling" is Lord Dumpling's revolutionary new version of the Stirling engine, a no-emission power source that engineers have been trying to perfect for almost two hundred years. Instead of the tiny explosions that drive the pistons of a standard internal-combustion engine, the Stirling drives its piston by forcing gas from one chamber to another in a perfectly closed system. He's pretty much got it nailed, aside from a few tweaks and a few niggling questions about who will pay for it. The "shot" is his equally revolutionary vapor-compression water distiller, which can make pure medicinal-grade water out of anything that's wet, even urine or toxic waste -- water so clean you could inject it into your arm. Together, the sling and the shot could save millions of lives. That's why he spent $50 million of his own money developing the prototypes and testing them in Third World villages, and they work, and we have to get the word out because 50 percent of all human illness is caused by waterborne pathogens.
Item number two is a benefit for FIRST, the robotics competition Kamen started in 1992. This is even more important because you get what you celebrate in a free market and America builds monuments to the things it values and unfortunately most of those monuments are giant sports arenas, which don't contribute anything to the future. Why waste so much time on bounce-bounce-throw when FIRST can turn aimless kids into the engineers of the future?
So he had to form an organization that would change the culture of the entire country and make all the kids in America understand that science and engineering really are cool and fun and if they don't study hard, they're going to end up dumb. He had to make the whole country see what he saw -- that if some foreign power came into this country to pervert our kids from doing the things that sustain our quality of life the way sports does, we would find them and prove that they were treasonously undermining our way of life and kill them.
In its first year, Kamen started with twenty-eight schools and signed up twenty-eight companies and universities -- giants like General Electric and MIT -- to mentor students. In January he gave the teams shoe boxes filled with parts. Six weeks later, they played the first game in a high school gym. Within a few years, he had sixty teams. Then a hundred. Now it's in thirteen thousand schools and thirty-eight countries. Last year they gave out $10 million in scholarships. It should be as big as the Olympics!
So here are some visa forms, please fill them out, and if you don't become a FIRST supporter by the end of the day, your visa will be revoked and this will be the last time you see North Dumpling Island.
Kamen's last agenda item is a kite-surfing contest, because the event has to be fun or nobody will want to come. So he has invited famous kite surfers like Larry Page and Sergey Brin from Google and Richard Branson of Virgin to come compete against the Dumplonians. That's what he wants, the Slingshot and FIRST and the kite surfing all wrapped into a big media event that will show the world that technology is cool and fun and also -- minor point -- the last best hope of mankind at a time when the lunatics are running the asylum. "Use your imaginations," he commands. "I would like, by the end of the day, to have a sense of what you're going to do to make these things all come together."
But right now, you probably all have headaches. So let's take a break. Come out this door and walk past the three-inch Wal-Mart -- that tiny gyroscope provides all its light and power -- and check out this twelve-foot-high version of Stonehenge. Squeeze in, there's plenty of room for everyone. They used to sacrifice virgins here back in the early days, he says. "But it was politically incorrect and we couldn't find any virgins, so we switched to lawyers. That turned out to be an enormous crowd-pleaser."
Next stop, the basement. Now you're in the heart of the machine. Here's the vapor-compression distiller. The vapor goes through this hose and comes into the turbine heat exchangers here and there's no noise and no consumables and no activated charcoal and no chemicals and no filter and no membranes. It makes a million liters of water in a thousand days with no human intervention. The goal is to get volume up and cost down. Maybe Wal-Mart can help? Coca-Cola?
And here's the Stirling, handcrafted by some of the most brilliant engineers in the world. It's running on propane now but a piece of burning cow dung will generate enough power to run a small refrigerator and charge a cell phone and run all the house lights -- and remember, more than 20 percent of the people alive today have never used electricity. They need the tools. So who's going to step up? Who will spend the millions and millions it will take to put this baby into production?
But enough fun and games. Now it's time to work.
And the guests obey, breaking into groups to tackle the issues separately. Could they anchor a barge off the island for a technology display area? Should they make the visitors buy carbon offsets? Should they get some FIRST graduates to come display their robots?
Every so often, Kamen jumps in to goose them along. When the guy from Wal-Mart offers a contribution, he whips out an ink stamp that says DUMPLOMATIC STATUS and bangs it down on his passport. "By the way," he says, pulling some funny-colored bills out of his pocket, "if that gets you in trouble, sometimes a few Dumplings can help."
Alas, the day ends in a palace revolt. "You need a clear story," says the lady from Coke. "You need a data point where people can enter."
"You've got to have a primary goal," says the woman who planned the largest charity event in history.
"As Lord Dumpling's Secretary of Cynicism," says another guest, "what aspect of this do you want to optimize? The green nation? FIRST? The kite surfing? You have too many ideas."
"The answer is yes," says Kamen.
At this juncture, the average human might conclude that Dean Kamen is totally out of his mind.
As it turns out, the day on North Dumpling was Kamen restrained. Today he's in his office in Manchester, New Hampshire, wearing his uniform, sitting under a full-length portrait of himself wearing his uniform, talking about FIRST and growing up and the Slingshot and FIRST and FIRST some more. He goes on for hours. There's a whiff of Maximum Leader in the room. His friends say this is normal for him, that he is in fact thinking as he speaks, but the word perseverating keeps coming to mind.
Straightened out so it makes some kind of sense, this is his story:
When he was a little kid growing up on the south shore of Long Island, still so young he didn't know how to read, someone told him the tale of David and Goliath. The slingshot is what stuck in his mind. "Here's this little guy with a really big problem, a Goliath of a problem, and he realized he could take a stone and a slingshot and solve that problem. Technology is cool." That thought germinated while he soaked up the role models around him. His father was an artist who made a living drawing comic books like Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science. He was working when Dean got up in the morning and still working when he went to bed at night, which taught him the importance of doing something you love. His mother taught accounting in high school and that gave him a taste for the business world. His older brother was a brilliant student who dissected rats in the basement and went on to get his M.D. and his Ph.D. in the same day. His younger brother and sister loved to work with tools and do home-construction projects. But Kamen felt stupid. He didn't understand why a hot glass of water on the counter gradually got cooler. Why didn't it get hotter? What were the rules?
He assumed that the grown-ups understood. Then he realized they didn't. Then he realized -- he was about thirteen at the time -- that he could figure out the rules by himself, deducing the laws of nature from first principles. That's when he stopped caring what anyone else thought.
He became spectacularly stubborn. His father called him a "human irritant." One of his teachers called him "Dino the Relentless." As his little brother, Mitch, puts it, "He was always focused on what he wanted to do, and nobody could ever talk him into doing something he didn't want to do."
Shortly after that, he discovered Sir Isaac Newton. A kindred spirit! He wasn't alone! His excitement is still vivid almost fifty years later. "F = ma, that's a pretty simple linear equation. Force equals mass times acceleration. You can't come up with a more simple statement that's not trivial. Yet it describes the motion of billiard balls and of galaxies. On a galactic scale, you can predict where the next eclipse will be because of F = ma. You can predict where atomic collisions happen because of F = ma. That's astounding."
The rest of Kamen's story is scientific legend, and he doesn't mind telling it: how he started tinkering with transistors and built a light box that pulsed along with the family stereo; how he snuck into the Hayden Planetarium in New York to install a new light show and launch an electronics career that was earning him $60,000 a year when he was just out of high school; how his brother came home from medical school and suggested he invent an automated way to deliver drugs, and so he set up a machine shop in his parents' basement, developed a working prototype, wrangled a rave review from The New England Journal of Medicine, put his younger brother to work on assembly and his mother on product testing; how he hired an architect to jack up the house and expand the basement into a small factory; how he refused to go to college classes and focused his relentless will on bending the Worcester Polytechnic Institute to his purposes. "I said, 'I'm paying my tuition to have the entire faculty as business consultants. I recognize that is not consistent with your model, which is, You know better than I and I have to take this much math and these electives, and all that stuff is valuable, but right now I'm focused, I'm allowed to make a rational decision, I can pay you this tuition and avail myself of this extraordinary faculty, but I'm not going to waste my time in class because the opportunity costs would be too high.' "
Eleven years after he started, he sold AutoSyringe to Baxter International for $30 million. Pondering his next move, he realized he had put more than a decade into developing one idea. "I said, Wow, you don't have a lot of cycles left. I don't want to spend my whole life building a company around this product or that product. I want to focus on lots of things."
The answer was Deka Research & Development, one of the most unusual companies in the country -- a state-of-the-art engineering lab tucked away in a series of old brick industrial buildings in Manchester, with few rules and little paperwork, built on his royalties and staffed with three hundred brilliant and quirky engineers dedicated to a single purpose:
Helping Dean Kamen change the world.
Now he's go to move. This is what he does. He roams the halls of Deka like a starving animal rooting for food. Here's a young engineer working on a tiny round circuit board for a new invention that could revolutionize the way heart surgeons do cut-and-stitch. "How much of this have we run so far?" he asks.
"Most all of it. This is probably pretty darn close to what would be on a final version."
"Jesus Christ. How many pins did you just pop?"
"I think it's a ten pin, something like that. It's teeny. I think it's the smallest connector made, just about."
They go on like that for a while, their voices quiet. This is when all the spinning gears and gyroscopes in Kamen's head line up. As long as he's staring at the circuit board, he has the quiet focus of a doctor studying a patient, the devotional calm of a priest taking confession.
It helps explain why his engineers are willing to start well below market rates, fired up by the chance to work with someone who can push them beyond their limits. It also helps explain why a man with such humane ambitions never had children and scorns marriage. (The Dumplonian visa application asks if you have ever been married "or otherwise institutionalized.") He says it's because kids would be "too much risk," that he couldn't live with himself if he didn't like them and became a rotten parent, oblivious to how Vulcan that reasoning might sound to a normal person.
Finally the engineer shows him how it all fits together.
"You drop this guy in and that guy should just fit on top and click into place," the engineer says.
"God, that's nice."
"And that's it for assembly."
"That's so nice."
He moves on. Down the stairs, up the stairs, into a big loft where a group of engineers puzzle over a titanium robotic arm commissioned by the Department of Defense. Kamen calls it "Luke" after Luke Skywalker, the Star Wars hero who lost a hand to Darth Vader's lightsaber. Saying a quick hello to Matt DeWitt, an Iraq veteran who lost both his arms in the battle of Fallujah and now serves as one of Luke's test pilots, he approaches another young engineer. This one is hunched over a thin piece of plastic shaped like a foot. Veined like a leaf with wires and sensors, it serves as a remote controller for the arm.
"We're modifying it to get it to work better for Matt," he says. "We're not getting a really good response."
"How long will it take?"
"Half an hour or so."
When he comes back, DeWitt stands at a table. He's got the titanium arm strapped on and he's stacking plastic cups. The arm whirs and spins and the metal fingers close on a plastic cup. It's soft and dents a little bit. To give DeWitt a sense of how hard his fingers are pushing, there's a pressure sensor just above his shoulder blade that vibrates soft or strong.
He whirs a cup across the table and drops it into place.
"Nice job," Kamen says.
"Give him some Skittles," one engineer suggests.
A minute later, the arm whirs and spins and the metal fingers close on a tiny candy. DeWitt concentrates and brings it to his mouth.
"Look at that," Kamen says.
"It's more impressive when it's something small like that," whispers another engineer.
"We do it with grapes too."
DeWitt says the arm is pretty easy to use and not as heavy as it looks. "It only bothers me kinda because I've lost so much of my arm here. But it's manageable. I could wear it all day."
He picks up an electric screwdriver to demonstrate the chuck grip. The mechanical finger moves over the drill's trigger. It has a black metal fingernail, which looks oddly beautiful. DeWitt concentrates and the drill whines. "That's awesome," Kamen says. "Compared to the other stuff that's out there, it's just light-years ahead."
Now they have to work it till it breaks. Then DeWitt can take it home and break it again, steps on the long journey from prototype to product.
These projects are all part of Kamen's day job, as he likes to call it. This means they're relatively practical and funded by outside sources. The tricky part is getting the funding in the first place, a process that usually begins with Kamen fixating on a pressing human need and following his nose with little regard for precedent or practicality. One day, for example, he saw a man in a wheelchair struggling to get over a sidewalk curb. Instead of trying to build a better wheelchair, he asked himself what that man really needed. To be able to go up stairs, to cross rough terrain, to rise up and look normal people in the eye. It hit him in the place where Lord Dumpling was born, where the highest good is independence. So he was pondering all that and he got out of the shower and slipped on the wet floor, windmilling his legs to regain his balance. That was the solution! Wheels that could spin back and forth so precisely and so fast, you could balance on just two of them.
People said it was impossible, but Kamen hates that word. Don't tell me it's impossible, he says, tell me you can't do it. Tell me it's never been done. Because the only real laws in this world -- the only things we really know -- are the two postulates of relativity, the three laws of Newton, the four laws of thermodynamics, and Maxwell's equation -- no, scratch that, the only things we really know are Maxwell's equation, the three laws of Newton, the two postulates of relativity, and the periodic table. That's all we know that's true. All the rest are man's laws.
Thinking this way, he made the iBOT come true. It's an amazing accomplishment, but the practical issues still dog him -- at $26,100, it costs way too much for most wheelchair users. Same with the Segway, which he put $50 million of his own money into before giving any serious thought to the problem of selling it.
Which brings us to the alcove where a pair of engineers are working on the Slingshot, another supposedly impossible dream. He needed a way to power the iBOT, so why not reinvent the engine? And he needed a cheap way to provide sterilized water to his home dialysis machines, so why not reinvent the water distiller? Then he realized that fresh water and electric power were a Goliath of a problem for little guys all over the Third World and the dream got even bigger. Was it practical? Would it be cost-effective? Would anyone be willing to finance it? Who cares? The little guy needed a slingshot! Dean Kamen could give it to him! He could combine two big ideas into one really big idea! More than fifteen years and another$50 million later, he's still trying.
Back in his office, Kamen fires out explanations for why the Slingshot hasn't taken off yet. It starts with the day Deka finished the first prototype and realized -- shades of the Segway -- there was no real market for it. The poor people who needed it couldn't even begin to afford it, so no big corporation wanted to invest $50 million or $100 million or more to tool up a factory and take it to market. "So now you've got these things, and you go, 'Wow, the kinds of companies that we do business with have to make their return. They're not going to do this.' A few of them said, 'Dean you're --' "
He stops himself before he says the word. But he knows these big corporate guys, and they're good guys, this is just an example where the great power of capitalism fails. So where do you take an idea that's not right for big companies? How about the United Nations? The World Bank? This was something he had never thought about before. What does the World Bank do? Does the World Bank loan money to poor people? Does the World Health Organization flood the Third World with doctors? Does the United Nations unite nations?
"I absolutely thought you could go to the United Nations or the World Bank or the World Health Organization or USAID or any of these organizations that have moral imperative and even a legal obligation to find the best solution to a given problem. You'd think they would be obligated to look at this. But they'd say, 'Great, Dean, as soon as you have these in production, call me, I'm here to buy them.' "
Okay, so what about the big foundations? What about Bill Gates? "I've come to learn, a foundation makes big government look like a bunch of entrepreneurs. They make Fortune 500 companies to be these agile little groups."
So he talked to people like Mohammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank, who won the Nobel prize for giving microfinance loans to poor villagers so they could start small businesses. That's the model for the twenty-first century, rock-skipping over the traditional infrastructure of telephone poles and IBM to the cell phone and the personal computer -- perfect for the Slingshot! But they all said the same thing: Great, give me a hundred or a thousand machines.
So he did some field trials, putting the distiller in a village in Honduras and the Stirling in a village in Bangladesh. And they worked. Marvelously. Magically. He proved that. And still nobody would finance them. It makes his brain hurt. To think that 20 percent of the people alive today are perfect -- more than perfect, desperate -- customers for this beautiful technology and organizations like the UN and WHO are so rigidly organized and their thinking is so monolithic and their model of risk and reward is so narrow that they can't conceive of taking a prototype to production even if it will save millions of lives....
That's when he decided he was approaching the problem from the wrong angle. The cell phone became successful because the developed world wanted it, so corporations spent the billions of dollars it took to develop the technology and put transmission towers everywhere. That's what he needed. He had to find a "killer app," a way to sell the Stirling and the distiller to the developed world.
So he went searching.
"Let's take a walk," Kamen says, leading the way through the halls. His first stop at the bottom of a flight of stairs is something that looks like an ordinary vending machine, but is, in fact, Kamen's magical water distiller. He opens it up and points out different parts. "This is the vapor-compression distiller, this is the evaporator condenser, these are the chemical heat exchangers, and this half is the refrigeration unit." He puts a plastic water jug under a spout. "This you can fill in under half a minute, one gallon in fifteen seconds. Or a glass of water, all from the same machine. Isn't that neat?"
To get the Slingshot to the 20 percent of the world that doesn't have electricity, Kamen came up with the idea of splitting it in half. Leaving the Stirling aside, he would try to develop a market for his distiller in parts of the developing world that have electricity but not reliable clean water. "There are five hundred thousand little stores in Mexico," he says. "If we can put one of these in 10 percent of them, that's enough to put it in production."
That may be the killer app for the distiller. The next stop is just outside the back door, a parking space occupied by a little Scandinavian electric car called the Think. Kamen opens the hatch and lifts up the floor panel. Instead of a spare wheel, there's a little Stirling engine no bigger than a football. "It has a long life, low maintenance, it doesn't have an exhaust system, mufflers, you don't have to worry about the points and the plugs. To make an electric car but have that as an insurance policy may be a very attractive feature. "Without the Stirling, the Think has a battery range of sixty or seventy miles. With the Stirling, its range could be unlimited. This could be the killer app for Kamen's engine.But alas, the Think corporation is too small to finance it. And the big car companies are too traumatized by the plunge in their markets. So now Kamen's in the process of hiring a guy to pitch it around. Maybe auto-component companies will go for it. Another possibility is backup power for homes. Or a cheap way to heat swimming pools. He has more ideas, lots of ideas. Moving down the halls, Kamen asks another engineer if he's working on the water distiller. "I'm not working on it," the engineer answers, looking dazed and just a little bit testy. "I'm working on a paying customer's job." Kamen moves on.
A couple of weeks later, Kamen's in a cheerful mood. Nokia kicked in $150,000 for FIRST. He has an upcoming meeting with Ratan Tata, head of India's biggest company, to talk about putting the Stirlings into Tata's little $2,500 cars. And the guy from Wal-Mart called to say that he almost missed a plane because of that Dumplonian stamp. "Why do you have diplomatic status?" the airport security guys asked. "It's Dumplomatic status," the man from Wal-Mart explained. Kamen thinks this is hilarious. "An international incident!" he laughs. He climbs the stairs to the roof and gets into his helicopter. He used to dream of this when he was a kid, the idea of rising up out of the backyard and just hovering. When the first big check arrived, the first toy he bought was an Enstrom helicopter. Then he bought a piece of the company and redesigned the helicopter to his own specs.As he rises above the town, and all the little houses turn into toys below him, the setting sun casts a golden light on the green hills of New Hampshire. "Isn't it beautiful?" he says. "It's like a magic carpet."But wait, we need the right music. He cranks up the theme from Star Wars -- dum, dum, da da! Up here, the music seems freshly rich with glory and wonder, restored to its boyish exuberance. "There's something exhilarating about cheating gravity," he says. Ten minutes later, he soars over his mansion. It's on top of a hill he built with truck after truck of dirt and rock, cooled and heated by water piped from a 3.8-million-gallon pond he created. He lands the helicopter on a motorized pad and steers it into a hangar built right into the house. "Isn't that neat? Nobody in the world has anything like this, not even Bill Gates."He designed the house, too, shaping it around a three-story steamboat engine once owned by Henry Ford. He spent fifteen years rebuilding the engine himself, cutting every nut and bolt in the vast machine shop just below his living room. "Eighty-seven thousand pounds of love," he calls it. Because there's nothing so soothing as cutting a piece of steel when it's late and you can't sleep because you're trying to work out some problem in your head. Because machines are more than machines, they're a road map to the people who built them. They tell you what kind of problems they had and what they wanted. Just as Kamen's inventions are his own autobiography in steel -- every one designed to cheat gravity, to declare independence, to make every man the king of his own empire.
He leads the way to the cupola at the top and watches the sunset, chattering happily. This is why he never got married or had children. He loves being away from everywhere, completely alone. He can watch planes land at the airport. He can watch the weather change. And it doesn't bother him that he usually comes home at nine or ten and drops into bed exhausted. It's like the private island he rarely visits, the girlfriend he rarely sees, the vacations he never takes. It's the idea that counts. Just knowing he has it is enough. Anyway, what should he stop doing? FIRST? Water? Power? Medical equipment? "I can't stop," he says. "As a practical matter, I can't put the world on hold."
He really can't. There's just too much he wants to do. When he proved that FIRST worked, he was sure it would be in every school in the country the next year. Same with the Segway. It's 100 percent more efficient than cars, those metal boxes designed for the open road when 50 percent of the people alive live in cities. It's just stupid. It's lunacy. And someday, the Slingshot will go into production, too. And one of the kids from FIRST will win the Nobel prize or cure cancer. But it takes time for an innovation to become a commodity. Because the Wright brothers flew a plane and it was a long time before frequent-flier miles. You have to be patient, give the world time to catch up.
For fun, he's starting to dream about something that flies. A new form of personal transportation. It will be, he says, Dumplonian. It will empower the individual.
Some kind of helicopter?
"Not a helicopter," he says, staring intently at the helicopter. "I've got a couple of ideas." He smiles, turning inward for a moment, lost in the vision of a new machine.