Friday, October 03, 2008

Dean Kamen's biography

Last night I finished reading Code Name: Ginger, a history of the development of the Segway transporter. It was a fascinating story -- I've read many accounts of software startups and product development tales, but this is the first hardware-oriented book I've read since Arthur Hailey's Wheels.

The focus of the book is not just the product. This is about the remarkable inventor and entrepreneur, Dean Kamen. The author of the book, Steve Kemper, manages to illustrate his character very well. After reading it, it's almost as if I know Kamen -- and, honestly speaking, while I would love to talk with him I don't think I could ever work with him after reading about the way he managed the Segway project.

But Kamen has done some remarkable things. While part II of the Segway story would be its apparent commercial flop (compared to the sales projections in 2001, at least) Kamen has since launched an important project that has the potential to help a huge population of severely disabled people. A few weeks ago, I saw this interview from the Wall Street Journal's All Things D conference in May, which featured Kamen discussing a special project to design a thought-controlled robotic arm for amputees:

Code Name: Ginger is a great introduction to the world of modern inventions, entrepreneurship, and engineering management. It's also an interesting case study of the way West Coast investors interact with the projects they take interest in. The sections about Jeff Bezos, John Doerr, and Steve Jobs getting involved with the Segway project and Kamen's management team are priceless.

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