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'Ginger' inventor inspires teens to design and dream

Dean Kamen  

(CNN) -- "Pick something you love and make it your life's work."

Entrepreneur and inventor Dean Kamen says his father, an artist, gave him that advice and he hasn't veered from it yet.

"He also taught me you have to do what's important and sometimes it's not always easy," he says.

Now, the wunderkind of the technology world is trying to pass along this advice to a new generation through FIRST. That's an acronym that means For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, a youth organization he founded nine years ago.


FIRST pairs corporate and university engineering teams with high school students to design and construct robots. The organization's annual competition is going on now in Orlando, Florida, and has attracted entries from across the country. In the world of robots, this is the Super Bowl.

The competition proves that "math and science isn't a cold, dry, dismal subject where the answers are all in the back of the book," he says. "In fact, more than any other human endeavor, engineering is about creating things that have never been created before."

If his words don't inspire, perhaps his track record will.

Kamen invented the wheelchair that can climb stairs  

Kamen's name has most recently been linked with 'Ginger', a mysterious invention some guess could revolutionize our everyday lives. It has been the hot topic of numerous Internet chat rooms and message boards. Some say Ginger may be a scooter with robotic characteristics that runs on a cleaner, more efficient fuel; others have said the creation envelopes its passengers and would be far safer than anything now on the nation's highways.

Whatever this much-ballyhooed gizmo turns out to be, Kamen is handing out no clues. He dismisses all the hype.

"Why focus on rumors and unimportant nonsense when we have a really great program (FIRST) that is desperately in need of seeing the light of reason?"

Kamen first made a name for himself with quality-of-life inventions that include a portable insulin pump, portable dialysis machine and a robotic wheelchair that boasts onboard sensors and computers that allow the chair to "walk" up and downs stairs and scale curbs.

Another invention of Kamen's -- a drug infusion pump  

Kamen is now a rich man because of his inventions.

"I started my little business in high school and it grew," he says. "I got lucky and started making some medical products for my older brother when he was in medical school."

Today, his company, DEKA Research & Development Corporation in Manchester, New Hampshire, has more than 200 employees, and Kamen holds more than 100 patents in the United States.

"Truly, I get more excited when I can go home and work in my own shop, work on my own electronics or when I can walk around in my little company here and participate in the good ideas," he says. "That's what I really love to do."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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