ARLY IN JANUARY, THE ‘FIRST’ INITIATIVE DESIGNED TO INspire young people to get more involved in science and technology will host
its annual kick-off meeting near Manchester, NH. Established by serial
U.S. inventor Dean Kamen in 1989, FIRST’s multiple youth challenges and
school activities range from robotics competitions to junior LEGO leagues.
In 2017 the group expects to attract 46,000 teams, almost a million students, 230,000 mentors, coaches and judges, 3,700 corporate sponsors, $50 million in college scholarships, and
stage over 2,600 events across 90 countries.
For Kamen, inspiring that next generation about the potential of technology is a
personal passion. Ever since he left college to
start up his own medical products company,
AutoSyringe, he’s nurtured a heartfelt belief
that solving many of the world’s most critical
problems depends on a fresh wave of young
inventors able to harness the power of advanced science and rapidly developing technologies in new ways.
With over 400 patents to his name, Kamen’s own record of inventive achievements
is legion – from early personal insulin pumps,
to advanced prosthetic devices for injured
soldiers in cooperation with DARPA, to the
Segway transporter, to the iBOT robotic
wheelchair, to a radically new approach to
water purification with the highly portable
Slingshot distillation system that can deliver
1,000 liters of pure water a day in remote and
In our latest Dialogue with an industry
Q: What excites you most about your role?
thought-leader, Kamen talks to Executive
Editor Paul Tate about the changing nature
of invention and innovation in a digital world,
how better cooperation between individual
inventors and major industrial corporations
can help transform the future, and about
the importance of helping young people to
grasp the opportunities new technologies and
materials create to help solve some of the
world’s most difficult problems.
A: I guess what excites me most is a couple
of things. I love technical challenges, but
working hard at something that has no benefit to anybody else, to me, is wasting time.
I like to look around the world and think
about some real need and then imagine how
I could solve that need to make peoples’
lives better. I can go off and work really
hard at something I enjoy doing – problem
solving – by playing with and understanding advanced technologies, but always
keeping in mind that if it works, millions
of people will get clean water, or stand up
and look their husband or wife in the eye, or
do their own dialysis at home in their bedroom.
So I work at these things knowing it can
help people, it’s a great intellectual challenge, and if you can do it in a way that’s
scalable, you can make it your career and
get paid to do it so you never need to get a
Q: Do you think the whole process of in-
vention and innovation is changing in
A: I think the process of both invention and
innovation are changing very quickly, and
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“The world des-
and we’re help-
ing to create