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Electric Automobile

Electric Automobile


Unlike the gas-powered automobile, the electric automobile did not easily develop into a viable means of transportation. In the early twentieth century, the electric car was vigorously pursued by researchers; however the easily mass-produced gasoline-powered automobile squelched interest in the project. Research waned from 1920-1960 until environmental issues of pollution and diminishing natural resources reawakened the need of a more environmentally friendly means of transportation. Technologies that support a reliable battery and the weight of the needed number of batteries elevated the price of making an electric vehicle. On the plus side, automotive electronics have become so sophisticated and small that they are ideal for electric vehicle applications.


The early development of the automobile focused on electric power rather than gasoline power. In 1837, Robert Davidson of Scotland appears to have been the builder of the first electric car, but it wasn't until the 1890s that electric cars were manufactured and sold in Europe and America. During the late 1890s, United States roads were populated by more electric automobiles than those with internal combustion engines.

One of the most successful builders of electric cars in the United States was William Morrison of Des Moines, Iowa, who began marketing his product in 1890. Other pioneers included S. R. and Edwin Bailey, a father-son team of carriage makers in Amesbury, Massachusetts, who fitted an electric motor and battery to one of their carriages in 1898. The combination was too heavy for the carriage to pull, but the Baileys persisted until 1908 when they produced a practical model that could travel about 50 mi (80 km) before the battery needed recharging.

Much of the story of the electric car is really the story of the development of the battery. The lead-acid battery was invented by H. Tudor in 1890, and Thomas Alva Edison developed the nickel-iron battery in 1910. Edison's version increased the production of electric cars and trucks, and the inventor himself was interested in the future of the electric car. He combined efforts with the Baileys when they fitted one of his new storage batteries to one of their vehicles, and they promoted it in a series of public demonstrations. The Bailey Company continued to produce electric cars until 1915, and it was among over 100 electric automobile companies that thrived early in the century in the United States alone. The Detroit Electric Vehicle Manufacturing Company was the last to survive, and it ceased operation in 1941.

Electric automobiles were popular because they were clean, quiet, and easy to operate; however, two developments improved the gasoline-powered vehicle so much so that competition was nonexistent. In 1912, Charles Kettering invented the electric starter that eliminated the need for a hand crank. At the same time, Henry Ford developed an assembly line process to manufacture his Model T car. The assembly was efficient and less costly than the manufacture of the electric vehicle. Thus, the price for a gas-driven vehicle decreased enough to make it feasible for every family to afford an automobile. Only electric trolleys, delivery vehicles that made frequent stops, and a few other electric-powered vehicles survived past the 1920s.

In the 1960s, interest in the electric car rose again due to the escalating cost and diminishing supply of oil and concern about pollution generated by internal combustion engines. The resurgence of the electric car in the last part of the twentieth century has, however, been fraught with technical problems, serious questions regarding cost and performance, and waxing and waning public interest. Believers advocate electric cars for low electrical energy consumption and cost, low maintenance requirements and costs, reliability, minimal emission of pollutants (and consequent benefit to the environment), ease of operation, and low noise output.

Some of the revived interest has been driven by regulations. California's legislature mandated that 2% of the new cars sold in the state be powered by zero-emissions engines by 1998. This requirement increases to 4% by 2003. Manufacturers invested in electric cars on the assumption that public interest would follow the regulation and support protection of air quality and the environment. General Motors (GM) introduced the Impact in January 1990. Impact had a top speed of 110 mph (176 kph) and could travel for 120 mi (193 km) at 55 mph (88 kph) before a recharging stop. Impact was experimental, but, later in 1990, GM began transforming the test car into a production model. Batteries were the weakness of this electric car because they needed to be replaced every two years, doubling the vehicle's cost compared to the operating expenses of a gasoline-powered model. Recharging stations are not widely available, and these complications of inconvenience and cost have deterred potential buyers. In 1999, Honda announced that it would discontinue production of its electric car, which was introduced to the market in May 1997, citing lack of public support due to these same deterrents.


Unlike primary batteries that have a limited lifetime of chemical reactions that produce energy, the secondary-type batteries found in electric vehicles are rechargeable storage cells. Batteries are situated in T-formation down the middle of the car with the top of the "T" at the rear to provide better weight distribution and safety. Batteries for electric cars have been made using nickel-iron, nickel-zinc, zinc-chloride, and lead-acid.

Weight of the electric car has also been a recurring design difficulty. In electric cars, the battery and electric propulsion system are typically 40% of the weight of the car, whereas in an internal combustion-driven car, the engine, coolant system, and other specific powering devices only amount to 25% of the weight of the car.

Other technologies in development may provide alternatives that are more acceptable to the public and low (if not zero) emissions. Use of the fuel cell in a hybrid automobile is the most promising development on the horizon, as of 1999. The hybrid automobile has two power plants, one electric and one internal combustion engine. They operate only under the most efficient conditions for each, with electric power for stop-and-start driving at low speeds and gasoline propulsion for highway speeds and distances. The electric motor conserves gasoline and reduces pollution, and the gas-powered portion makes inconvenient recharging stops less frequent.

Fuel cells have a chemical source of hydrogen that provides electrons for generating electricity. Ethanol, methanol, and gasoline are these chemical sources; if gasoline is used, fuel cells consume if more efficiently than the internal combustion engine. Fuel cell prototypes have been successfully tested, and the Japanese began manufacturing a hybrid vehicle in 1998. Another future hope for electric automobiles is the lithium-ion battery that has an energy density three times greater than that of a lead-acid battery. Three times the storage should lead to three times the range, but cost of production is still too high. Lithium batteries are now proving to be the most promising, but limited supplies of raw materials to make all of these varieties of batteries will hinder the likelihood that all vehicles can be converted to electrical power.

Raw Materials

The electric car's skeleton is called a space frame and is made of aluminum to be both strong and lightweight. The wheels are also made of aluminum instead of steel, again as a weight-saving method. The aluminum parts are poured at a foundry using specially designed molds unique to the manufacturer. Seat frames and the heart of the steering wheel are made of magnesium, a lightweight metal. The body is made of an impact-resistant composite plastic that is recyclable.

Electric car batteries consist of plastic housings that contains metal anodes and cathodes and fluid called electrolyte. Currently, lead-acid batteries are still used most commonly, although other combinations of fluid and metals are available with nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries the next most likely power source on the electric car horizon. Electric car batteries hold their fluid in absorbent pads that won't leak if ruptured or punctured during an accident. The batteries are made by specialty suppliers. An electric car like the General Motors EV1 contains 26 batteries in a T-shaped unit.

The motor or traction system has metal and plastic parts that do not need lubricants. It also includes sophisticated electronics that regulate energy flow from the batteries and control its conversion to driving power. Electronics are also key components for the control panel housed in the console; the on-board computer system operates doors, windows, a tire-pressure monitoring system, air conditioning, starting the car, the CD player, and other facilities common to all cars.

Plastics, foam padding, vinyl, and fabrics form the dashboard cover, door liners, and seats. The tires are rubber, but, unlike standard tires, these are designed to inflate to higher pressures so the car rolls with less resistance to conserve energy. The electric car tires also contain sealant to seal any leaks automatically, also for electrical energy conservation. Self-sealing tires also eliminate the need for a spare tire, another weight- and material-saving feature.

The windshield is solar glass that keeps the interior from overheating in the sun and frost from forming in winter. Materials that provide thermal conservation reduce the energy drain that heating and air conditioning impose on the batteries.


Today's electric cars are described as "modern era production electric vehicles" to distinguish them from the series of false starts in trying to design an electric car based on existing production models of gasoline-powered cars and from "kit" cars or privately engineered electric cars that may be fun and functional but not production-worthy. From the 1960s-1980s, interest in the electric car was profound, but development was slow. The design roadblock of the high-energy demand from batteries could not be resolved by adapting designs. Finally, in the late 1980s, automotive engineers rethought the problem from the beginning and began designing an electric car from the ground up with heavy consideration to aerodynamics, weight, and other energy efficiencies.

The space frame, seat frames, wheels, and body were designed for high strength for safety and the lightest possible weight. This meant new configurations that provide support for the components and occupants with minimal mass and use of high-tech materials including aluminum, magnesium, and advanced composite plastics. Because there is no exhaust system, the underside is made aerodynamic with a full belly pan. All extra details had to be eliminated while leaving the comforts drivers find desirable and adding new considerations unique to electric automobiles. One eliminated detail was the spare tire. The detail of the rod-like radio antennae was removed; it causes wind resistance that robs energy and uses energy to power it up and down. An added consideration was the pedestrian warning system; tests of prototypes showed that electric cars run so quietly that pedestrians don't hear them approach. Driver-activated flashing lights and beeps warn pedestrians that the car is approaching and work automatically when the car is in reverse. Windshields of solar glass were also an important addition to regulate the interior temperature and minimize the need for air conditioning and heating.

Among the many other design and engineering features that must be considered in producing electric cars are the following:

  • Batteries that store energy and power the electric motor are a science of their own in electric car design, and many options are being studied to find the most efficient batteries that are also safe and cost effective. An electric motor that converts electrical energy from the battery and transmits it to the drive train. Both direct-current (DC) and alternating current (AC) motors are used in these traction or propulsion systems for electric cars, but AC motors do not use brushes and require less maintenance.
  • A controller that regulates energy flow from the battery to the motor allows for adjustable speed. Resistors that are used for this purpose in other electric devices are not practical for cars because they absorb too much of the energy themselves. Instead, silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) are used. They allow full power to go from the battery to the motor but in pulses so the battery is not overworked and the motor is not underpowered.
  • Any kind of brakes can be used on electric automobiles, but regenerative braking systems are also preferred in electric cars because they recapture some of the energy lost during braking and channel it back to the battery system.
  • Two varieties of chargers are needed. A full-size charger for installation in a garage is needed to recharge the electric car overnight, but a portable recharger (called a convenience recharger) is standard equipment for the trunk so the batteries can be recharged in an emergency or away from home or a charging station. For safety, an inductive charger was created for electric cars with a paddle that is inserted in the front end of the car. It uses magnetic energy to recharge the batteries and limit the potential for electrocution.

The Manufacturing

The manufacturing process required almost as much design consideration as the vehicle itself; and that design includes handcrafting and simplification as well as some high-tech approaches. The assemblers work in build-station teams to foster team spirit and mutual support, and parts are stored in modular units called creform racks of flexible plastic tubes and joints that are easy to fill and reshape for different parts. On the high-tech side, each station is equipped with one torque wrench with multiple heads; when the assembler locks on the appropriate size of head, computer controls for the machine select the correct torque setting for the fasteners that fit that head.

Body shop

The body for the electric car is handcrafted at six work stations.

  • 1 Parts of the aluminum space frame are put together in sections called subassemblies that are constructed of prefabricated pieces that are welded or glued together. The glue is an adhesive bonding material, and it provides a connection that is more durable and stiffer than welding. As the subassemblies for the undercarriage of the car are completed, they are bonded to each other until the entire underbody is finished.
  • 2 The subassemblies for the upper part of the body are also bonded to make larger sections. The completed sections are similarly welded or glued until the body frame is finished. The body is added to the underbody. The adhesive used throughout staged assembly of the frame is then cured by conveying the body through a two-stage oven.
  • 3 The roof is attached. Like other parts of the exterior, it has already been painted. The underbody and the rest of the frame are coated with protective sealants, and the finished body is moved to the general assembly area.

General assembly

General assembly of the operating components and interior of the electric car is completed at eight other work stations.

  1. At the first assembly station, the first set of the electric car's complex electronics are put in place. This includes the body wiring and seating of the Power Electronics Bay which holds the Propulsion Control Module, integrated drive unit, and a small radiator. The integrated drive unit consists of the alternating current induction motor and a two-stage gear reduction and differential. These units are all preassembled in their own housings. The components of the control console are also installed.
  2. The interior is outfitted. Flooring, seats, carpeting, and the console and dash are placed in the car. The process is simple because the instrument panel and console cover are made of molded, fiberglass reinforced urethane that has been coated with more urethane of finish quality and with a non-reflective surface. These two pieces are strong and don't need other supports, brackets, or mounting plates. Assembly is straight forward, and performance is superior because fewer pieces reduce possibilities for rattles and squeaks.
  3. At the third work station, the air conditioning, heating, and circulation system is inserted, and the system is filled.
  4. The battery pack is added. The T-shaped unit is seated by lifting the heavy pack using a special hoist up into the car. The pack is attached to the chassis, as are the axles complete with wheels and tires. With both batteries and the propulsion unit in place, the car no longer has to be moved from station to station on specially designed dollies. Instead, it is driven to the remaining work stations. The system is powered up and checked before it is driven to the next team.
  5. The windshield is installed and other fluids are added and checked. The door systems (complete with vinyl interiors, arm rests, electronics, and windows) are also attached, and all the connections are completed and checked. The exterior panels are added. Similar to the roof and doors, they have been prepared and painted before being brought to the work station. The final trim is attached to complete the upper exterior.
  6. At the final work station, the alignment is checked and adjusted, and the under-body panel is bolted into place. The process concludes with the last, comprehensive quality control check. Pressurized water is sprayed on the vehicle for eight minutes, and all the seals are checked for leaks. On a specialized test track, the car is checked for noises, squeaks, and rattles on a quality-based test drive. A lengthy and thorough visual inspection concludes the quality audit.

Quality Control

Industry has proven that work stations are a highly effective method of providing quality control throughout an assembly process. Each work station has two team members to support each other and provide internal checks on their part of the process. On a relatively small assembly line like this one for the electric car (75 assemblers in a General Motors plant), the workers all know each other, so there is also a larger team spirit that boosts pride and cooperation. Consequently, the only major quality control operation concludes the assembly process and consists of a comprehensive set of tests and inspections.

Unique to manufacture of the electric car, the operation of the car has been tested during the final assembly steps. The car has no exhaust system and emits no gases or pollutants, so, after the battery pack and propulsion unit have been installed, the car can be driven inside the plant. Proof that the product works several steps before it is finished is a reassuring quality check.


There are no byproducts from the manufacture of electric cars. Waste within the assembly factory also is minimal to nonexistent because parts, components, and subassemblies were all made elsewhere. Trimmings and other waste are recaptured by these suppliers, and most are recyclable.

The Future

Electric cars are critically important to the future of the automobile industry and to the environment; however, the form the electric car will ultimately take and its acceptance by the public are still uncertain. Consumption of decreasing oil supplies, concerns over air and noise pollution, and pollution caused (and energy consumed) by abandoned cars and the complications of recycling gasoline-powered cars are all driving forces that seem to be pushing toward the success of the electric car.

Where to Learn More


Hackleman, Michael. Electric Vehicles: Design and Build Your Own. Mariposa, CA: Earthmind/Peace Press, 1980.

Shacket, Sheldon R. The Complete Book of Electric Vehicles. Northbrook, IL: Domus Books, 1979.

Whitener, Barbara. The Electric Car Book. Louisville, KY: Love Street Books, 1981.


Associated Press. "Fuel-cell vehicles to take road test. "Daily Review (Hayward, California), 21 April 1999, p. 3.

Associated Press. "Honda dumps electric cars." Daily Review (Hayward, California), 30 April 1999.

General Motors. EVolution: The Official Publication of General Motors Advanced Technology Vehicles, 1997.

Hornblower, Margot. "Is this clean machine for real?" Time (December 15, 1997): 62+.


Electric Vehicle Association of the Americas.

General Motors (GM) Satum EVI.

Honda EV Plus.


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Kamen, Dean

Kamen, Dean

1951 Long Island, New York

Inventor, entrepreneur

Dean Kamen is a leading American scientist and inventor whose products include the Segway human transporter (HT) and the iBOT battery-powered wheelchair. His numerous inventions include medical devices and futuristic gizmos that Kamen hopes will revolutionize the way we live and travel. Whenever Kamen introduces a new product, people take notice, and they eagerly anticipate the next one. His newest creation? A nonpolluting, low-power water-purifying system designed for use in underdeveloped countries. Time magazine called it one of the "coolest inventions of 2003."

A modern-day Edison

Dean Kamen was born in 1951, in Rockville Center, Long Island, New York. His father, Jack, was an illustrator for Weird Science and Mad comic books; his mother, Evelyn, was a teacher. Kamen began tinkering with gadgets when he was fairly young. He claims that when he was five years old he invented a way to make his bed without running from one side to the other.

However, despite the fact that he was obviously bright and very curious, Kamen did not do well in school. His grades in junior high and high school were only average, and Kamen often found himself at odds with his teachers. This is an experience that many creative people seem to go through. For example, Thomas Edison (18471931), who developed the electric light bulb and the phonograph, attended school for a grand total of three months. His teachers considered him to be a slow learner. Instead Edison was taught by his mother at home, where he thrived, reading every book he could get his hands on. Like Edison, Kamen was (and still is) an avid reader of science texts.

By the time he was a teenager, Kamen was being paid for his inventions, most of which he built in his parents' basement. He was hired by local rock bands and museums to design and install light and sound systems. He was even asked to work on automating the giant ball that is lowered in Times Square each year on New Year's Eve. Before he graduated from high school, Kamen was earning about $60,000 a year, which was more than the salaries of both his parents combined.

"If you start to do things you've never done before, you're probably going to fail at least some of the time. And I say that's OK."

After high school Kamen attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, but again he was more interested in inventing than attending classes. It was during his early years at WPI that Kamen developed the first of his many medical breakthroughs. His older brother, Barton, who was in medical school, commented to him that patients who needed round-the-clock medication were forced to come into the hospital for treatment. Kamen decided to fix the problem. He came up with the AutoSyringe, a portable device that could be worn by patients and that administered doses of medication. As a result, patients were able to enjoy some freedom.

In 1976 Kamen left Worcester Polytechnic (without graduating) and founded his own company, called AutoSyringe, to sell his medication device. The medical community embraced the AutoSyringe, and among scientists Kamen soon gained a reputation as a maverick inventor. In 1982 Kamen sold AutoSyringe to Baxter International, an international health-care company. The sale made him a multimillionaire.

A Look at FIRST

Dean Kamen established FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 1989 because he wanted kids to get excited about science. A science competition seemed like a good idea, but he did not have a run-of-the-mill science fair in mind. Instead, Kamen developed a robotics competition. The first robotics competition took place in a small New Hampshire high school gym and involved only twenty-eight teams. In 2004 there were more than eight hundred teams in the United States and around the world, competing in twenty-three regional events and a championship event held in Atlanta, Georgia. But, what is a robotics competition all about?

It is a lot like a high school athletic event where teams compete in games of skill, except in robotics, the game changes every year. In early January, FIRST releases the rules of the game, which include how the playing field will be set up and what tasks a robot will be expected to perform to win the most points. For example, in 2004 a robot had to collect balls and deliver them to a human player who shot the balls into a goal.

Teams are then given six weeks to design, build, and test their robots. Companies sponsor local high school teams, providing money to help with costs and technical support to help build the actual robot. The company engineers also serve as mentors to the students throughout the experience.

At regional competitions the atmosphere is charged. Teams wear colorful T-shirts and uniforms that they design with their logo; they also cheer and root for their favorite players. Music is played over loudspeakers, and announcers and referees broadcast during the matches. Teamwork is encouraged. As part of the game, teams are paired together during each match. In match thirteen, Team 182 may be partnered with Team 115; in Team 182's next match they be competing against Team 115.

Winners at the regional level move on to the national competition in Atlanta, where ultimately one winning alliance (composed of three teams) takes the title. On the FIRST Web site, however, Kamen explains that winning is not what matters: "Here, whether your robot wins or not, you come away ... with an understanding of what is possible in the world.

Kamen wows the world

After selling AutoSyringe, Kamen moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, where he launched his new company, DEKA Research & Development. DEKA is a combination of the first two letters of Kamen's first and last names: DEan KAmen. The DEKA research facility is a vast network of nineteenth-century brick buildings that sprawl along the banks of the Merrimack River. Over two hundred researchers, engineers, and machinists work there and focus both on developing products for other companies and advancing Kamen's own projects. For example, in 1993 Kamen and company invented a portable kidney dialysis machine called HomeChoice. A kidney dialysis machine is used to purify the blood of someone whose kidneys do not function properly. Usually a patient must go to the hospital on a regular basis to be treated.

Kamen went on to impress the medical world by developing hundreds of inventions. In 1999, however, he wowed the rest of the world when he unveiled the Independence iBOT 3000 Mobility System, a stair-climbing wheelchair. "I just thought the existing wheelchair was a pretty inadequate solution," Kamen explained to Max Alexander in a Smithsonian interview. The iBOT is a motorized wheelchair that can take on almost any terrain, for example sand, gravel, or grass. It can also climb stairs and curbs, and it raises itself up, balancing on two wheels, so that a user can be level with a standing person. According to Kamen, the stair-climbing capability was great, but for years wheelchair-users had told him they longed to be able to carry on a conversation eye-to-eye.

In 2003 the iBOT was finally approved for sale by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is a government agency that researches products to make sure they are safe for people to use. The iBOT went into production in late 2003 and was available at a cost of $29,000. People who bought an iBOT were required to go through special training on how to use the system.

The super scooter

If the iBOT caused a media flurry, then Kamen's next invention, the Segway, created a media blizzard. Kamen had been working on his mystery project for over ten years, and months before it was launched there was a buzz about what it could possibly be. In December 2001, Kamen finally introduced the world to what he called a self-balancing, electric-powered transportation machine. Some observers claimed it looked like a super scooter. In a 2001 interview with John Heilemann, however, Kamen claimed that the Segway would "be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy."

The Segway has no brakes, no engine (it is battery-powered, so it needs to be charged), and no steering wheel. It can carry a rider who weighs up to 250 pounds, and cargo up to 75 pounds. And it can travel at speeds up to 17 miles an hour. The amazing thing about the machine is that, like the iBOT, it is totally self-balancing, which means it cannot tip over when a person is riding it. Both inventions rely on a system of gyroscopes, computer chips, and electronic sensors that together pick up tiny shifts in the rider's movements. Basically, the Segway does what you want it to do. For example, if you step off, the Segway comes to a stop.

Kamen had high hopes for the Segway. He did not see the Segway as a toy scooter; he believed that it could help solve the problem of overpopulated cities. "Cities need cars like fish need bicycles," Kamen told Heilemann. The inventor envisioned people in cramped urban areas, like San Francisco, California, or Shanghai, China, scooting around on their Segways. As a result, pollution and congested city traffic would be eliminated. Kamen also predicted that the Segway would be used by postal workers, police officers, factory workers, and even soldiers on battlefields.

By 2004 the Segway was not quite as successful as Kamen predicted: only six thousand machines had been sold. Buyers were curious, but not curious enough to pay $4,950 to own one, and problems were cropping up everywhere. The company had to recall, or take back, models because riders were falling off their Segways when the machines' batteries went low. In addition, laws in several cities, including San Francisco, prevented people from riding Segways on city sidewalks. A major blow came in February of 2004 when Segways were banned from Disney-owned theme parks. It seemed that people were not quite ready for the ride of the future.

A global challenge

In 2003 Kamen was ready to tackle another serious problem: contaminated water. During the 1990s he had experimented with a way to power the iBOT and the Segway. He focused on the Stirling engine, which was developed in 1816 by Scottish inventor Robert Stirling (17901878), because it produced efficient power that was clean and quiet. It was also complicated and expensive to build. The Stirling engine was not right for his transportation machines, but Kamen believed he could use it to help make clean water. According to the United Nations, an organization of countries working together to keep peace and solve problems, approximately six thousand people die every day from drinking water that is not clean or safe.

After the media hype that surrounded the Segway, Kamen was cautious about predicting the success of his water purifier, nicknamed the Slingshot. It was still costly to produce, but it was small, weighing about one hundred pounds, and it could run on almost any fuel, including wood, grass, or cow dung. Plus, the purifier required little maintenance and would make ten gallons of drinking water an hour. In November of 2003, Kamen told Lev Grossman of Time magazine that he was not sure how to market the Slingshot or how to get it to the people of the world who needed it; what he did know was that it works. In 2004 a determined Kamen visited the African countries of Rwanda and Bangladesh to demonstrate his system. He planned to visit India and Pakistan later in the year.

The pied-piper of technology

Throughout his career Dean Kamen has received an amazing number of awards, including the Heinz Award (1998), "for a set of inventions that have advanced medical care worldwide," and the National Medal of Technology (2000). Kamen's National Medal acknowledges his inventions, but it also applauds him for "innovative and imaginative leadership in awakening America to the excitement of science and technology."

Kamen's passion for science has created a need in him to ignite that spark in others, especially young people. According to Max Alexander, he is a "one-man band banging the cymbals of scientific innovation." In 1989 he founded FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). The focus of FIRST is an annual competition where high school teams, with the help of corporate sponsors, build robots and face off in regional and national games. The goal of FIRST is to get young people excited about technology. As a result, they might even consider a career in math, science, or engineering to be an appealing option in a society that idolizes actors, rock bands, and sports stars. Kamen told Forbes's Glenn Rifkin, "We'll be successful when you can walk up to the average kid on the street and he'll be able to name a few heroes who ... don't dribble a basketball."

One of those heroes just might be Kamen. Since he unveiled the Segway on national television, Kamen has become something of a celebrity. He is an easily recognizable figure, with his shock of dark hair and his trademark uniform of jeans, denim shirt, and work boots. Kamen is also a savvy salesman who tirelessly crows about his inventions. Such salesmanship has made Kamen a very rich man. He lives in an enormous house in Manchester, Connecticut, that is powered by a giant wind turbine and has a fully equipped machine shop in the basement. Out back there is a lighted baseball diamond and a landing pad for his two helicopters, which Kamen helped design. He also owns an island off the coast of Connecticut.

And there is no sign that Kamen is slowing down. Unmarried and with no children, his work seems to be his life, but, as he comments on the Segway Web site, "You know, it's only work if you'd rather be doing something else."

For More Information


Alexander, Max. "'Wow, Isn't That Cool!'" Smithsonian (September 2003): p. 95.

Grossman, Lev. "Water Purifier: Thousands Die Every Day for Lack of Clean Water. Can the Man Who Invented the Segway Save Them?" Time (November 17, 2003): p. 72.

Heilemann, John. "Reinventing the Wheel: Here 'It' Is.' Time (December 10, 2001): pp. 7076.

Levy, Steven. "Great Minds, Great Ideas." Newsweek (May 27, 2002): p. 56.

Rifkin, Glenn. "Geek Chic: Dean Kamen Hopes to Encourage Students to Study Sciences and Technology." Forbes (February 26, 1996): pp. S4043.

Web Sites

For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) Web site. (accessed on May 29, 2004).

Science Enrichment Encounters (SEE) Science Center Web site. (accessed on May 30, 2004).

Segway Web site. (accessed on May 30, 2004).

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