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Wizard of inventions will change the world with 'IT'

DEAN Kamen is hardly your run-of-the-mill type. He lives in a hexagonal house, he is an aviation enthusiast who commutes by helicopter, dropped out of college aged 20, and says he holds the world record for the longest uninterrupted period wearing denim he's never seen without a trademark denim shirt.

He is also a multi-millionaire, who rubs shoulders with the glitterati including the President-elect, George W Bush (though he was once seated beside the actress Shirley Maclaine and the actor Warren Beatty, and had no idea who either was).

Kamen (49) has made his money through his inventions and some top minds who have seen his latest one say that it could completely change the way that we live.

Bigger than the internet. As important as the PC. So fundamental that it will alter the way that cities are designed.

So, what is it it is "IT" or "Project Ginger", as it is also being called. But nobody, outside a tightly-knit group which includes the billionaires Steve Jobs, head of Apple Computer, and Jeff Bezos, founder and head of Amazon.com, as well as the venture capitalist John Doerr, plus a few engineers in Mr Kamen's company Deka Research, knows what IT actually is.

However that has not stopped a spiral of excitement surrounding the product. For a technology industry that has seen the Internet bubble burst, and demand for computers slump amidst whispers of a US recession, a new technology wonder is exactly what the doctor ordered. The buzz is almost palpable.

The Harvard Business Press has signed a book deal for £166,000 with Steve Kemper, a journalist who has had exclusive access to the development of "Ginger" but it does not know what it is either. The few details that have slipped out about the prospective product, via Mr Kemper's proposal, have only served to whet appetites and set the internet abuzz. According to Mr Kemper, Mr Jobs and Mr Bezos attended a demonstration of "Ginger" in fact two of them. From a few cardboard boxes and a couple of large duffel bags, Mr Kamen assembled two of them using a screwdriver and hex wrenches in just 10 minutes.

Mr Jobs's reaction is quoted as "if enough people see the machine you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen."

According to the book proposal, Mr Bezos laughed when he first saw IT and then added "you'll have no problem selling it." The question is, are people going to be allowed to use it the price, it appears, will be around £1,300.

Mr Kamen himself told Mr Kemper that his 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."

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He added that it will "sweep over the world and change lives, cities and ways of thinking." If all this has you in an agony of anticipation, it is not going to end now.

Yesterday, Mr Kamen's company DEKA, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, was issuing a brief statement that "while projects are in their development phase and have client confidentiality requirements, it is impossible for us to comment further."

The hype is enormous, and it looked unlikely even last night that the secrecy around the product, which also has investment from the merchant bank Credit Suisse First Boston, can survive to next year, when Mr Kamen says "Ginger" will be unveiled.

Yet it would be foolish to put anything past him. Aged 25 and in his third year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US, he got chatting to his brother, then a medical student, who noted how there was no means to give people a steady flow of medication.

Mr Kamen turned his mind to it and dropped out to form his first corporation in 1976, aged 25. In 1978 he demonstrated the first portable infusion pump able to dispense insulin, and other drugs. In 1982 he sold the product rights, making him an instant multi-millionaire.

(Independent News Service)


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