The Money Invention

Dean Kamen’s Stirling Engine

Dean Kamen gets a lot of press. He’s one of those off-scale smart guys, which causes many of the rest of us to celebrate when it looks like he’s going to stumble. His Segway “scooter” got attention for being a paradigm-shifter – maybe because it can turn on a pair of dimes?

This evening on 60 Minutes II, Kamen unveiled the Stirling engine that has been written about since summer. One version is designed for the 3rd world, running on charcoal or wood chips, generating electricity and 10 gallons of UV-purified water per day. Here are some Kamen quotes I got this morning off the blog of Aaron Swartz , another off-scale brain, 16 years old, who named Kamen one of his superheroes. I had a hunch he’d be revealing the Stirling tonight. Here’s what he said about it.

Stirling Engine

It’s no surprise the same people who need electricity need water. So instead of plugging it into your home, you can plug your home into it. Give 4 billion people transportation, communication, electricity and water. One problem: these people have no money. Need a really good invention so we can solve this positively. They need to be a resource, not a consumer. Look what happens when everyone knows exactly what they don’t have and can’t get.


We need to create demand and show kids what’s real and important. Instead, they suffer from obscene distractions: rock star, basketball player. Their only other choice is flipping burgers and selling dope. Most of the country is women and minorities, but their sum makes up less than 11% of all technical jobs.

Average kid doesn’t know a scientist or an engineer. Don’t believe any are women or minorities or have fun. We need to convince these minorities to participate. The rock stars and sports players aren’t going to do it. All you technologists get an A+ for doing great things but a D- for being socially responsible. So we need the Olympic Committee of Smarts. FIRST. Kids doing things with real adults that do things that are important. Kids have the advantage, since it’s not what we don’t know that limits us, it’s what we know that isn’t so. Have to show the kids that it’s every bit as fun as shooting hoops but there are a few more jobs available.

It took off. This year we had 17 cities hold regional events. Big cities. We are creating demand. But we’re missing mentors that understand technology and can show kids that science isn’t middle-aged men in lab coats. We need your support. You’re all busy. If you’re not busy, I don’t want you. But you need to participate.

Your technology isn’t going to do what you think it will. Answering machines were supposed to make sure we can talk to everyone, but now we use them to screen calls. Cell phones were supposed to connect us to everyone, but instead they separate us from the people in the same room. We won’t solve the digital divide with more technology.

The most important thing we can invent is inventors. If we keep having more people with less resources the world is going to be an ugly place.

The Mentor Engine

Kamen’s putting as much energy into his mentor-based Education program – FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology).

Xpertweb is also designed to be a low-energy engine that uses common resources, but to generate mentors, not water. Where Kamen wants to inspire inventors and engineers, we’re more interested in everyday folks doing something, anything, for other people. Kamen rightly believes that, given our current economic structures, we need lots of technologists to bring down the cost of getting useful inventions into third world villages.

But what if some part of the economy routes around our current economic structures? Xpertweb opens that door, but it doesn’t care what people do, as long it’s of real value to others.

I wonder when an Xpertweb user in the US will mentor someone in Bangalore. I wonder how long it will then take for a software engineer in Bangalore to mentor his contractor into Xpertweb.

You could not design the convoluted sequence by which a contractor’s sister in a village outside Bangalore uses the Xpertweb forms and PayPal to sell her exquisite scarves in Des Moines.

10:47:34 PM    

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