Book proposal adds to ‘IT’ mystery
Invention said to be bigger than PCs and the Internet
By PJ Mark
Jan. 9 — Harvard Business School Press executive editor Hollis Heimbouch has
just paid $250,000 for a book about IT — but neither the editor nor the
agent, Dan Kois of The Sagalyn Literary Agency, knows what IT is.
ALL THEY DO know: IT, also code-named Ginger, is an invention
developed by 49-year-old scientist Dean Kamen, and the subject of a planned
book by journalist Steve Kemper. According to Kemper’s proposal, IT will
change the world, and is so extraordinary that it has drawn the attention of
technology visionaries Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs and the investment dollars
of pre-eminent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, among others.
Kemper — who has been published in Smithsonian, National Geographic
and Outside among others — has had exclusive access to Kamen and the
engineers at his New Hampshire-based research and development company, DEKA,
for the past year and a half. He tags the proposed book as Soul of the New
Machine meets The New New Thing and won over his agent and publisher with
e-mails describing the project in carefully couched language. He also
included an amusing narrative of a meeting between Bezos, Jobs, Doerr and
In the proposal, Doerr calls Kamen — who was just awarded the
National Medal of Technology, the country’s highest such award — a
combination of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Doerr also says, a touch
ominously, that he had been sure that he wouldn’t see the development of
anything in his lifetime as important as the World Wide Web — until he saw
IT. According to the proposal, another investor, Credit Suisse First Boston,
expects Kamen’s invention to make more money in its first year than any
start-up in history, predicting Kamen will be worth more in five years than
Bill Gates. Jobs told Kamen the invention would be as significant as the PC,
the proposal says.
And though there are no specifics in the proposal as to what the
invention is, there are some tantalizing clues. Is IT an energy source? Some
sort of environmentally friendly personal transport device? One editor who
saw the proposal went as far as to speculate — jokingly (perhaps) — that IT
was a type of personal hovering craft.
Consider the following items, culled from the proposal:
IT is not a medical invention.
In a private meeting with Bezos, Jobs and Doerr, Kamen assembled two Gingers
— or ITs — in 10 minutes, using a screwdriver and hex wrenches from
components that fit into a couple of large duffel bags and some cardboard
The invention has a fun element to it, because once a Ginger was turned on,
Bezos started laughing his “loud, honking laugh”.
There are possibly two Ginger models, named Metro and Pro — and the Metro
may possibly cost less than $2,000.
Bezos is quoted as saying that IT “...is a product so revolutionary, you’ll
have no problem selling it. The question is, are people going to be allowed
to use it?”
Jobs is quoted as saying: “...If enough people see the machine you won’t
have to convince them to architect cities around it. It’ll just happen.”
Kemper says the invention will “sweep over the world and change lives,
cities, and ways of thinking.”
The “core technology and its implementations” will, according to Kamen,
“have a big, broad impact not only on social institutions but some
billion-dollar old-line companies.” And the invention will “profoundly
affect our environment and the way people live worldwide. It will be an
alternative to products that are dirty, expensive, sometimes dangerous and
often frustrating, especially for people in the cities.”
IT will be a mass-market consumer product “likely to run afoul of existing
regulations and or inspire new ones,” according to Kemper. The invention
will also likely require “meeting with city planners, regulators,
legislators, large commercial companies and university presidents about how
cities, companies and campuses can be retro-fitted for Ginger.”
The invention itself is as interesting as the inventor. Kamen — “a
true eccentric, cantankerous and opinionated, a great character,” according
to the proposal — dropped out of college in his 20s, then invented the first
drug infusion pump; he later created the first portable insulin pump and
Kamen, an avid aviator who commutes via a helicopter, is also the
founder of FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology
— a nonprofit organization that encourages young people to pursue studies
and careers in math and science. He’s a single man obsessed with his work
and out of touch with popular culture. According to the proposal, Kamen was
seated at a White House dinner next to two people he’d never heard of:
Shirley MacLaine and Warren Beatty.
• Inside Dope
• Deals & Corporate Moves
• Job Changes
Kamen’s most recent invention is the iBot, an off-road wheelchair
that can climb stairs, cover sand and gravel and rise to balance on two
wheels. A prototype iBot was showcased by wheelchair-bound journalist John
Hockenberry at least year’s TED conference in Monterrey, Calif.; the
demonstration was greeted by wild applause.
IT/Ginger won’t be revealed until 2002, the proposal says. No one has
seen the project except Kamen, Kemper, the engineers and the investors —
which include Doerr, a partner in the venture capital firm of Kleiner
Perkins Caufield & Byers, which helped launch Netscape, Amazon, Juniper
Networks, Excite, and @Home, among others; and Michael Schmertzler, managing
director of Credit Suisse First Boston. Others who have seen the invention
and signed confidentiality agreements include minor investors Paul Allaire,
CEO of Xerox; and Vern Loucks, recently retired CEO of Baxter. Bezos, Jobs
and writer/venture capitalist Randy Komisar sit on the advisory board. Kamen
retains 85 percent of his new company, according to the proposal.
What do you think IT is? Post your thoughts to our BBS
Why the secrecy? Kamen fears, as he states in a letter to Kemper that
is included in the proposal, that “huge corporations” might catch wind of
the invention and “use their massive resources to erect obstacles against us
or, worse, simply appropriate the technology by assigning hundreds of
engineers to catch up to us, and thousands of employees to produce it in
But such secrecy may have been enough to turn publishers away. “The
Internet changed the world, too” said one editor who considered the project,
“but books about it don’t really sell.” As for the quarter-million-dollar
price tag for North American rights: on the one hand, it doesn’t seem to be
a lot for a book about an invention which has mesmerized such well-known
technology moguls. On the other, $250,000 is a lot to pay for a story about
a product that hasn’t been seen, defined or named.
“We were well aware of Kamen,” says book editor Heimbouch, who says
she’s been publishing in this technology circle for a long time.” (The
bestselling The Monk and the Riddle: The Education of a Silicon Valley
Entrepreneur by Komisar is hers.) So jumping on board for the book wasn’t
such a dilemma. Besides, says Heimbouch, Harvard Business School Press had
intended to approach Kamen about doing a book anyway. “He’s an inventor of
great technologies that make people’s lives better,” she says.
Harvard Business School Press, a division of Harvard Business School
Publishing, is a wholly owned , not for profit subsidiary of Harvard
University. The Sagalyn Agency retains all but North American rights to the
More entertainment & media news
• Inside.com: Kozmo’s hidden power
• Inside.com: 2 more execs resign
• Inside.com: Industry Standard cuts 36 jobs
• Times workers end seven-week strike
• Inside.com: McCall’s misses out on domain name
• Inside.com: The Potter that won’t sell
Copyright © 2001 Powerful Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.
More by PJ Mark
Bargain hunting boosts techs
Poll: Faith in economy slipping
MEEKS: How to torpedo an antitrust case
TWA approves buyout by AMR
Jobs unveils new Macs, OS X enhancements
MSNBC Cover Page
MSNBC VIEWERS' TOP 10
Would you recommend this story to other viewers?
not at all 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 highly
MSNBC is optimized for
• Microsoft Internet Explorer
• Windows Media Player • MSNBC Terms,
Conditions and Privacy © 2001
Cover | Headlines | News | Business | Sports | Local | Technology | Living
& Travel | Health
TV News | Opinions | Weather | Shop@MSNBC | MSN | Comics | Find | About
MSNBC | Help | Index
News Tools | Jobs | Write Us | Advertising on MSNBC | Terms, Conditions, and
...from the MSNBC forum for the foregoing article, this comment seems like a
Date: I say again. Ginger (Rogers) Shoes w/wings
Tue Jan 9 18:34:34
This is easy:
FRED AND GINGER...SHOES WITH WINGS ON
In 1933 the world of dance changed forever. Near the end
of the cast billing of a movie called Flying Down To Rio
were two names that now seem to be incomplete without the
other. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
The idea of using compressed air, stored in a light
container to create a kick board without wheels. The
bottom is a smooth surface which bends slightly to take
advantage of a "floor" that the base of the board
dances on. Speed and direction are controlled by a
computer which determines which small holes at the bottom
of the boards base are turned on and which are not. Think
of a typical air hockey game at an arcade.
No wasted energy, no special equipment and zero pollution
fit the descriptions suggested in the article.
To get a refill (re-fit buildings and cities) you simply
pop in a reusable cartridge and like a Co2 gun,
off you go flying on less than an 1/8 off the special
smooth surface designed assist in control.. like a hot
wheels track built into the surface areas.
The larger version would look like a small flying saucer
turned up side down and again fit into a special surface
track which is designed for higher speeds and larger
Think about what Kamen has already worked on in the past
: The invention itself is as interesting as the inventor.
Kamen — “a true eccentric, cantankerous and opinionated,
a great character,” according to the proposal — dropped
out of college in his 20s, then invented the first drug
infusion pump; he later created the first portable
insulin pump and dialysis machine.
The lack of significant moving parts and the use of
Earth's gravity to create a slight incline where needed
and enhance the speed and performance of the shoes with
Think of a University campus wired with compressed air.
Can we call it the Airnet? You step out of class, step
onto your Ginger board and hit the compressed air. Off
you go floating over the track off to the next class. Out
of gas (air), just plug into a refill station available
everywhere and you are in business.
This will work on any size scale as long as the ratio of
lift to surface area to weight it constant.
Requires no moving parts to the track or road and can be
mass manufactured and laid like tile almost anywhere.
Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:17 MDT