What is IT?

A n internationally regarded inventor creates something that makes investors salivate with expectation. Internet discussion groups burst with speculation on the nature of the invention. It even piques the interest of the mighty Harvard Business School Press, who pays an astounding $250,000 US for a book about it. The problem? Almost no one knows exactly what IT really is.

The person at the centre of this publicity hurly-burly is 49-year-old scientist Dean Kamen. His invention, codenamed 'Ginger' (or more mysteriously, 'IT'), has galvanized the press, investors, and various industry leaders, and provoked a maelstrom of rumours via the Internet.

What ever it is, Ginger has industry leaders and investors very excited.

Image from Kamens Patent
Image from Kamen's patent application. Is THIS Ginger?
Because Kamen has given very little concrete information to the press, much of the information that is available is hazy and uncertain.

Some of the theories about Ginger are that it is some kind of personal transport device (like a scooter), a new kind of energy source, or both. Those in the know point to a profile of Kamen in a recent issue of Wired magazine, which revealed that his company (DEKA Research & Development, Corp.) is working on a nonpolluting engine. The engine is purportedly based on the Stirling engine, first proposed in 1816 by Robert Stirling in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Kamen hopes the Stirling engine can be developed into an affordable power source that would run on many different fuels (including water). He's also hoping it could act as a highly effective water purifier.

Creating a cheap, nonpolluting power source would be reason enough for investors to become excited, but the discovery of a patent application by DEKA Research has sent interest in Ginger skyrocketing. The patent features some kind of "transportation vehicle," and numerous pictures of what seems to be a kind of scooter.

IT would be "almost as big as cold fusion would have been," said 3Com's Bob Metcalfe.

Kamen recently gave a demonstration of Ginger to a number of New Economy CEOs. The personalities present included Jeff Bezos from Amazon.com, Steven Jobs from Apple, eminent Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, and journalist Steve Kemper, among others.

Although details were sketchy at best, Kemper submitted a proposal to the Harvard Business School press on Ginger, which culminated in the $250,000 book deal.

Details from the proposal (as reported by Inside.com) include:
  • IT is not a medical invention.
  • There may be two versions of IT, called Metro and Pro
  • Bezos reportedly said that IT "is a product so revolutionary, you'll have no problems selling it."
  • Kemper said it will "sweep over the world and change lives, cities, and ways of thinking."
  • Jobs was quoted as saying, "If enough people see the machine, you won't have to convince them to architect cities around it. It'll just happen."
Bezos was so intrigued with Ginger that he's already selling it - sort of. Amazon.com has posted a page on its site featuring the mysterious IT, with a picture featuring a beanie-wearing question mark on top of two wheels.

"Is IT a car? A train? A motorized scooter, as the text in the patent seems to suggest?" the page says, "Or is Ginger simply 'New Coke 2001'?"

Another investor, Credit Suisse First Boston, said that it expects Ginger to make more money in the first year than any start-up in history. It even went so far as to predict that Kamen would be worth more than Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates in five years.

The hype must have scared Kamen, who hurriedly issued a statement attempting to quell the wild speculation about Ginger.

"Since speculation arising from an unfortunate, unapproved leak of a book proposal has not diminished," his statement began, "I feel compelled to comment further."

He continues with the explanation that some of the quotes attributed to Bezos and Jobs were taken "out of context, without their doubts, risks and maybes included."

"This, together with spirited speculation," the statement read, "has lead to expectations that are beyond whimsical."

What is Ginger? The public will have to wait until sometime in 2002, which is when Kamen plans to unveil his much-discussed invention.
Need to know more?
Sympatico-Lycos: Dean Kamen: Inventor puts inventors First
Background on the inventor, with details on his other inventions and much more.

NOTE: Clicking on the links below will open the article in a new window.

Inside.com: 'Ginger' Inventor Appears at Davos, stays Mum.

Wired: 'Ginger': Kamen's Stirling Idea

Wired: A Wheelchair for the World

TheItQuestion.com: This surprisingly comprehensive Web site went up within hours of the news breaking. You just have to love the Internet.

Syfer.net: A Ginger Theory - One man's theory (With diagrams! And charts!) of what Ginger is.

Modern Humorist: Nature of "IT/Ginger" Revealed [Spoof]

IdleWorm: Flash animation spoof on 'Ginger' (Flash plug-in required)

GingerPoll.com: Take the 'Ginger' Poll

TheGinger.com: A whole Web site on the hype of the moment.

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