Reinventing the Wheel: A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition

Overview

Reinventing the Wheel is the riveting, behind-the-scenes story of the enigmatic and cocksure inventor Dean Kamen and the Segway Human Transporter.

When Kamen invented the two-wheeled vehicle known to many by its code name, Ginger, he promised it would transform the face of personal transportation forever. But when this brilliant and driven inventor attempted to become an entrepreneur, a colossal power struggle ensued. Here, Steve Kemper takes you along for the wild ride. In ...

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Overview

Reinventing the Wheel is the riveting, behind-the-scenes story of the enigmatic and cocksure inventor Dean Kamen and the Segway Human Transporter.

When Kamen invented the two-wheeled vehicle known to many by its code name, Ginger, he promised it would transform the face of personal transportation forever. But when this brilliant and driven inventor attempted to become an entrepreneur, a colossal power struggle ensued. Here, Steve Kemper takes you along for the wild ride. In Reinventing the Wheel, Kemper goes inside Kamen's world of technology development, where nerve and ingenuity collide with high finance and the bottom line.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060761387
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/15/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Kemper

From August 1999 to January 2001, veteran journalist Steve Kemper was the only outsider to have exclusive behind-the-scenes access to Dean Kamen and his team of engineers at DEKA. His work has appeared in Smithsonian, National Geographic, and other magazines. This is his first book.

Good To Know

In our interview with Kemper, he shared some fun facts about himself:

"Until my mid-20s, I had never written anything except academic papers and the usual sophomoric poetry. I expected to become an English professor and to spend my life reading and teaching, but academia became more and more suffocating. I'm so relieved that I escaped into the world."

"I don't do well with bosses. I was fired from summer jobs twice and have never had a regular full-time job."

"The things I need: my family, books, music, friends, good food and drink, travel, stimulating work. On the second tier: movies and basketball. Dislikes: ideologues, moral zealots, fear-mongers, power-abusers, bullies, cynics with small experience, conformists, cowards, vulgarians, and liars. Oh, and peas and Brussels sprouts."

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    1. Hometown:
      West Hartford, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 25, 1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Louisville, Kentucky
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Detroit, 1973; Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 1980
    2. Website:

First Chapter

Reinventing the Wheel
A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition

Chapter One

In Development

1951-1995

Rockville Centre, Long Island, a small, pleasant suburb thirty-eight minutes by train from New York City, isn't known as a cradle of invention. Dean was born there in 1951 and endured its educational system through high school. Like many restless, energetic boys, he was an indifferent student. School bored him. Once, in elementary school, his teacher told the class that every number divided by itself was one: 7/7 = 1, 9/9 = 1, and so on. Dean liked the clean certainty of that. But what about zero divided by zero? "One" didn't seem right, so he raised his hand. The question irritated his teacher, who accused him of not paying attention. That was generally true, but not this time, so Dean retorted that her math made no sense. She called Dean's mother, herself a teacher, who told Dean to apologize. He refused. He knew he was right.

In seventh grade, Dean's teacher complained to his parents that he must be cheating in math, because he got the right answers but didn't show any calculations. Dean explained that he could see the steps, so writing them down was pointless. Nevertheless, he felt stupid throughout much of his schooling on Long Island, especially compared to his brother Bart, two and a half years older, who excelled at academics and would be named a Westinghouse scholar as a high school senior. (He is now a distinguished pediatric oncologist.)

At the start of high school, weighing in at in 105 pounds, Dean went out for football. He quickly abandoned that experiment and joined the wrestling team instead. Academically he remained bored, with marginal grades. When his friends got 90s and 100s on their math tests, he would retort that that was easy and challenge them to do what he did -- purposefully get a 57. He swears this is true.

Then he discovered primary scientific texts such as Newton's Principia and Galileo's works. Vistas opened. He calls these pioneering scientists his real teachers. They would inspire many of his later inventions.

By the middle of high school Dean was playing around with the latest developments in electronics, powerful semiconductors and solidstate supertransistors called SCRs and triacs. He made a light box that could be plugged into a stereo so the lights pulsed with the music, and began putting on shows for friends in his parents' basement.

Soon after turning sixteen and getting a driver's license, he took a summer job working for man who designed slide shows and wanted Dean to build cabinets for his projectors. It was mindless work, but it offered the excitement of driving into Manhattan, where one of the man's clients was the Museum of Natural History. Dean had a pass that let him into the museum's restricted underground garage.

He quit after a few weeks, bored. But he had a plan. He had noticed that the lighting system in the museum's Hayden Planetarium was old and bulky, so one day he drove into New York and waited to see the museum's chairman. When he was finally admitted, he told the chairman that he wanted to upgrade the museum's lighting system using state-of-the-art transistors and semiconductors. The chairman saw a cocky, scrawny, sixteen-year-old kid. He blew him off.

That provoked Dean. He took the money made from building cabinets, $80 or so, and spent it on parts at Radio Shack. For the next couple of weeks he worked day and night in his basement, designing a light show. Then he used his pass to enter the museum and wired his box into the planetarium's light system. Just like that. He found the chairman and gave him the news. You've done what? said the chairman.

Before he could be thrown out, Dean convinced the chairman to come take a look. When Dean flipped the switch, the rotunda burst into illumination. The chairman looked around slowly, then invited Dean to his office and asked a question: How much would this system cost the museum?

Dean was a kid. It seemed to him that his whole future depended on his answer, because he had quit his summer job and risked all his earnings. Working in the basement, he had dreamed about pocketing the immense sum of $1,000. So he swallowed hard and, characteristically, asked for twice that much.

The chairman walked around his desk. On one condition, he said: Dean had to do the same thing for the other three museums under the chairman's care. Four museums for $2,000, thought Dean, deflated. Not much profit. But before he could say OK, the chairman finished the math: The fee would be $8,000. Dean's gamble had paid off.

By the time he graduated from high school, he was selling light boxes to local rock bands and building customized audiovisual presentations that synchronized multiple slide projectors. He started college at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, but ignored requirements and disregarded grades. Instead, he sat in on classes that interested him and chatted with professors about physics, engineering, and his heroes: Galileo, Archimedes, Newton, and Einstein. Besides, he didn't have much time for academic drudgery. He was driving home every weekend to work on his basement business, which he called Independent Prototype. He was making about $60,000 a year, good money in the early seventies, and exceptional for a college student. He sank it all back into the business, moving his mother's washer and dryer upstairs to make room in the basement for a lathe, a band saw, a milling machine, and an oscilloscope.

A man named William Murphy, the founder of a medical company called Cordis, had admired the show at the Hayden. Murphy wanted to hire whoever had done it to design an audiovisual presentation that would introduce Cordis's new programmable pacemaker at a big trade show in California. Someone from Cordis left a message on Independent Prototype's answering machine. Dean agreed to a fee for a twenty-four-screen show. Cordis sent a team to explain their needs ...

Reinventing the Wheel
A Story of Genius, Innovation, and Grand Ambition
. Copyright © by Steve Kemper. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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