Tag Archives: National Medal of Technology

Jew of the Week: Dean Kamen

Inventor of the Segway

Dean Kamen on a Segway

Dean Kamen on a Segway

Dean Kamen (b. 1951) was born in New York, the son of famous illustrator Jack Kamen. He dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute to focus on his career as an inventor and entrepreneur. His first big success was inventing a wearable drug infusion pump, after which he started his first company¬†AutoSyringe. Following this, he worked on portable kidney dialysis machines, robotic arms, insulin pumps, the Stirling engine, water purification systems, as well as solar power and off-grid electricity in the hopes of raising the standard of life in developing countries. Among his more interesting inventions are an all-terrain wheelchair, and a device that launches people into the air, used by law enforcement agents and emergency workers to get to the top of tall or inaccessible rooftops and buildings. Above all though, his most well-known invention is undoubtedly the Segway – the cool, self-balancing, two-wheeled personal transporter. Though it has yet to catch-on among the public, it was once thought to be an invention “more important than the internet”, and Steve Jobs said it was “as big a deal as the PC”. Meanwhile, Kamen founded an organization called FIRST, aimed at inspiring students to enter technology and engineering programs. The organization provides over $15 million in scholarships. It also runs the famous FIRST Robotics Competition, now held in some 60 locations around the world, with over one million students having participated over the years. All in all, Kamen holds over 440 patents. He has already been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and has won a great number of awards and honourary degrees, including the National Medal of Technology, and the UN’s Global Humanitarian Action Award. In 2010, he also starred in the TV show Dean of Invention. Kamen is a hobbyist pilot, and owns a collection of jet aircraft and helicopters, which he usually flies to work.

Words of the Week

He was this little guy David, and he had this really big problem, Goliath, and he took him out because he had a little piece of technology, and I thought, “Wow, technology is cool.”
Dean Kamen, on being inspired by the Biblical story of David and Goliath

Jew of the Week: Ralph H. Baer

The Father of Video Game Consoles

Ralph Baer, Video Game Console Inventor

Ralph Baer, Video Game Console Inventor

If any one person can be credited with sparking the video game industry, it is Ralph Baer. Born in Germany in 1922, Baer was expelled from school at age 11 because he was Jewish. Fearing violent anti-Semitism, the Baer family fled to America before the onset of the Holocaust. Instead of going to school, Ralph worked in a factory for 12 dollars a week, but made sure to learn on his own. During World War II he served as an intelligence officer based in London, stationed in France. After returning home Baer was among only a handful of people to earn a Bachelor of Science in television engineering, and worked for several electronics companies (including IBM) before joining Sanders Associates, a defense contractor which builds electronics for the military. It was there that Ralph Baer began developing a gaming system in 1966. The prototype was complete by 1968, and in 1972 was released by Magnavox as the first ever home video game console, known as the Odyssey.

Magnavox Odyssey

Magnavox Odyssey

Shortly after, Baer also developed the first peripheral device to a video game console, the famous ‘light gun’. This gun technology has been used in some of the most popular video games ever since. Today, video games make up an incredible $25 billlion industry, with nearly 70% of all households owning consoles. Baer continued to develop electronic games (he invented the popular handheld memory game Simon) and home consoles until retiring in 1987. He was recently inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and has received, among many other awards, the National Medal of Technology for his “groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games.”

Update: Sadly, Ralph Baer passed away on December 6, 2014.

Words of the Week

Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body.
– George Carlin