“We could empty half of all the beds in all the hospitals in the world just by just giving people clean water.”
Dean Kamen in Slingshot
Recently, I watched the 2014 movie entitled SlingShot on Netflix. This documentary chronicles American entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen’s (1) and his firm, DEKA Research and Development Corporation’s (2) 15-year efforts to develop and market his “SlingShot” water-purification system (3). The film also touches on some of his other inventions including the Segway Personal Transporter (4), iBOT Wheelchair (5) and HomeChoice portable dialysis (6). Overall, I’d give the 97 minute movie a 3 out of 5 star rating. The documentary highlights many of the challenges of innovating (7):
Duncan Jones, Hexagon Innovating (2015) is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.
1) I have always been intrigued by Dean Kamen. I met him at a conference in Philadelphia where he was a keynote speaker around 2001 or 2002, soon after the launch of the Segway. At that time, I was also fortune to demo the Segway.
2) DEKA was founded in 1982. It’s mission is “to foster innovation.” I tracked their inventions over time as a the IBOT was a competitor to the “Nimble” power wheelchair that the early-stage fund I managed had invested in. Similarly, the HomeChoice dialysis unit was similar to an opportunity that I evaluated on two separate occasions.
3) The underlying technology of the SlingShot water purification system is distillation of water (boiling it to create “clean” steam and then cooling it back to clean water). This is done in an efficient manner using computer controlled vapour-compression evaporation.
4) The Segway is the famous two-wheeled, self-balancing scooter that was backed by all the famous CEO’s in Silicon Valley and was launched in 2001 with incredible marketing fanfare. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be the success that was anticipated. Ironically, it was the predecessor of the various so called hoverboards that were launched in 2015 coincident with their prophecy in the 1989 movie Back to The Future II.
5) The iBOT is a power wheelchair that, with gyroscopic technology similar that in the Segway, allows it to rise up on two wheels to bringing seated occupants up to eye level as well as allowing it to climb stairs. Again, the product, launched in 2003, has not been very successful as there are “unreasonable” (stability-related) risks of injury which resulted it being classified as a Class III medical device as well as it being expensive ($25,000). It was licensed to Johnson and Johnson and discontinued in 2009. There are rumours of a new Class II categorized version that could fair better commercially.
6) The HomeChoice portable dialysis unit which was licensed to Baxter for automated, home peritoneal dialysis for severe, chronic kidney disease and launched in 1994 has been a very successful product line.
7) The six tenets of Hexagon Innovating are used as a framework to outline these challenges.