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Segway Inventor Turns To Environment 439

MBCook writes "CNN has an article in which they talk about Dean Kamen's latest inventions designed to provide water to rural villages. His goal is also to provide electricity and opportunities for entrepreneurship. From the article: 'Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water,' says Kamen. 'The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don't care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.'"
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Segway Inventor Turns To Environment

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  • Rumors (Score:4, Funny)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:16PM (#14744231) Homepage Journal
    latest inventions designed to provide water to rural villages.

    The rumormill says this time, "it" will consist of a rider on the segway carrying water bottles for the needy.

    • Re:Rumors (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Golias ( 176380 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:45PM (#14744504)
      No matter how stupid, useless and over-hyped the Segway was, Dean Kamen is still a fucking genius and the closest thing we have to a Thomas Edison in our generation.

      His insulin pump was so brilliant, it looks obvious in hindsight (as the best inventions often do.)

      Even the Segway, which is a silly gadget, makes a sort of sense. He was hoping to make a consumer product which (had it caught on with people) would apply economies of scale to his gyroscopic concepts, which would eventually make his stair-walking wheelchairs cheaper.

      If he wants to turn his mad skillz to the problem of getting clean water to people, I gotta take off my hat.
      • Re:Rumors (Score:5, Insightful)

        by HotNeedleOfInquiry ( 598897 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:55PM (#14744582)
        I don't understand all the backlash against the Segway either. I mean, if you want to attack stupid, wasteful and obnoxious vehicles, start with snowmobiles, trail bikes, then work your way to SUV's. The biggest problem with the Segway is that common folk can't afford it. If you could walk into the nearest bike store and take one home for $300, the critics would be drowned in the pool of fans. As it is, it's an attractive anti-yuppie target.

        • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:31PM (#14744866)
          The big problem with the Segway was the hype, not the merits of device itself. When Jeff Bezos said that he could see cities being redesigned around the thing, we all thought that it had to be something revolutionary and amazing that would lead us all to change.

          What he really seems to have meant was that for the device to sell, cities would have to be redesigned first. It's too heavy, fast, and unmaneuverable to ue on sidewalks, and it's too slow, unprotected, and unmaneuverable to use on streets. In essence, for the Segway to work, there'd have to be a completely new set of lanes for it. Additionally, it has all the problems of not protecting against the elements or having cargo space that prevent it from truly replacing cars. It's also far too expensive for the average person to justify the limited utility.

          To sum up, it costs too much and can't be used in a majority of outdoor situations. It was overhyped when it had commercial flop written all over it. The Segway was brilliant example of promising the world and delivering nothing.

          Snowmobiles and trail bikes at least have thrill-seeking element that the 12.5 MPH, no off-roading Segway did not.
      • Re:Rumors (Score:5, Insightful)

        by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:57PM (#14744606)
        No matter how stupid, useless and over-hyped the Segway was, Dean Kamen is still a fucking genius and the closest thing we have to a Thomas Edison in our generation.

        Perhaps you mean Tesla:) Edison was more businessman than inventor.....
      • Re:Rumors (Score:4, Insightful)

        by errxn ( 108621 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:00PM (#14744627) Homepage Journal
        ...and the closest thing we have to a Thomas Edison in our generation.

        Does that mean Kamen's stealing all of his inventions from Nikola Tesla, too?
      • Re:Rumors (Score:5, Informative)

        by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <> on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:01PM (#14744636) Homepage
        Anyone making fun of his Segway does need to realize that, and yeah, his wheelchair was fucking brilliant. If you haven't seen it, it's a upright wheel-'chair'.

        People in it are the same height as people who can walk (Thus, he says, elimating a lot of prejudice.) and can go over bumps and up and down stairs. It doesn't take up any more horizontal space than a fat person.

        Think of it as a segway made into a wheeled mech suit for the lower half of your body. And I read somewhere that he planned to slim it down once it caught on, so it would be basically leg braces with wheels at the end. People might come up to you, and you wouldn't even notice their legs aren't moving.

        And this isn't some pipe dream, these things actually work, balancing the same way as the segway, with two wheels on each side, so they can flip forward and move you up or down stairs. They're just too expensive right now. He was hoping to use the same parts as the segway to cut the cost down,but that didn't work out, obviously.

      • Re:Rumors (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ivan256 ( 17499 ) *
        the closest thing we have to a Thomas Edison in our generation.

        Edison's skill was not just the creation of novel devices, but the creation of the infrsastructure and market manipulation that went along with making the novel part of his invention a success. In that respect Kamen, smart as he is, is as far from Thomas Edison as you can get.

        You have to be able to do more than invent to be in the same league as Edison.
      • Desalination (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GPS Pilot ( 3683 )
        TFA says, "The Slingshot works by taking in contaminated water - even raw sewage -- and separating out the clean water by vaporizing it." If it vaporizes the water, couldn't it also be used to desalinate seawater? That would be a boon for poor dry coastal villages, like in Baja California.
    • Re:Rumors (Score:3, Interesting)

      by British ( 51765 )
      The rumormill says this time, "it" will consist of a rider on the segway carrying water bottles for the needy.

      How about instead of just a $100 laptop, a $3 durable, easily fixable bicycle with add-on attchments for trailers? Or make some special type of wheel that, when used by a LOT of people in a common area, it paves a new road for them. Okay, now I'm thinking in Civilization terms(but those roads came in handy).

      Gotta transport that water & stuff somehow.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:18PM (#14744250)
    Finally, a product that's worth a crap!
  • by snooo53 ( 663796 ) * on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:20PM (#14744266) Journal
    What he should be doing is marketing this to rural farmers in developed countries. If I lived on a farm with access to the fuel, I would love to have a kilowatt generator for $1000 to supplement my electricity use.
    • More than likely they'll end up doing this. The more then can sell, the cheaper they'll be to produce. Simple economics of scale. You might not get a $1,000 model, but what about a $2,500 one?
    • Speaking of farms (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:48PM (#14744528) Journal
      This would be fucking great for fish farms.

      Fisheries generate a lot of crap-filled water that generally gets pumped into (and pollutes) a local river.

      Of course, this guy's invention would have to be scaled waaaaay up for farmers of any kind in the 1st world, since they have enormous plots of land compared to most farms in 3rd world & developing countries.

      Still, Kudos to him, because he's right. Finding potable water is actually a greater problem than access to food in most of the 3rd world. However, the second you increase survival rates in those developing countries, you create a host of other problems as the population increases.

      Countries are like ecosystems, once you fiddle with one variable, you usually have to deal with a rash of unintended consequences.
    • Stirling engines (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Flying pig ( 925874 )
      WhisperGen already make space heaters with approx 1kW electricity output, but they are many times too expensive. Faced with a choice between a £10000 ($18000) WhisperGen and a £500 Dickinson oil stove plus a £500 Honda generator - no brainer time, especially when you figure in the installation costs.

      If this particular Stirling engine design is capable of being made in volume at a sensible price and is not simply an over-priced toy for rich yacht owners like the WhisperGen, it deserves to s

    • by rossifer ( 581396 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @06:11PM (#14745620) Journal
      If I lived on a farm with access to the fuel, I would love to have a kilowatt generator for $1000 to supplement my electricity use.

      Put together a long-lived 5kW "any liquid fuel" generator for $1500 right now. Use a Changfa 195 single-cylinder low speed diesel engine [] coupled to a 5kW ST generator []. The motor and generator will run you about $1000 and you'll need couplers, adapters and to build a solid frame for mounting. This is much heavier than the typical Honda generator, but is less expensive, longer lasting (the Honda will last for about 600 hours, this should last for 20,000 to 50,000 hours between rebuilds), highly field maintainable, is quieter (1800 RPM one cylinder instead of 3600 RPM one or two cylinder), and runs on just about any fuel.

      It ought to look a little like one of these rigs [] when you're done. You could also do a 10kW version using a bigger motor (1115) and generator head for about $2500.

      Assuming we're still talking about farm use, plant cottonseed or rapeseed on 20 acres, buy a cheap oil press ($400, use the same motor and coupling to drive it) and run the genset on the oil. For even lower maintenance and possibly making a little money on the side (but more up front cost), make biodiesel from the oil first.

  • Cow dung? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:21PM (#14744272)
    The electric generator is powered by an easily-obtained local fuel: cow dung. Each machine continuously outputs a kilowatt of electricity.
    The main advantage of cow dung is that it's considered "carbon neutral" []. Plus it's a relatively abundant resource in the communities they're talking about. I worry a little about pollution issues, as you likely get a lot of particulates in the air. Small power plants tend to pollute more per power generated than large, centralized ones. Economics of scale and all that.
    • Re:Cow dung? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by NorthDude ( 560769 )
      Not to be pedantic, even if I may sound so, but what have economics do with the fact that pollution generated by a small power plant is greater then by a big one? I would think that small power plant generate more pollution per watt produced then bigger ones because of efficiency and the physics involved rather then because of economics. But I'm no engineer, so I may well be wrong. Also, if it is carbon neutral, why do we need to worry about CO2 pollution? Isn't the whole "carbon neutral" thing an argum
      • Small plants are more polluting because the advanced technologies needed to clean emissions from modern plants are bulky and expensive and thus aren't feasable for use on small plants. Basically, polution scrubbers scale up fairly well, but they don't scale down for crap, and they're still really expensive. That's why you need a large plant with large economies of scale to use them.
        • Re:Cow dung? (Score:3, Interesting)

          by kesuki ( 321456 )
          Apparently you've never heard of these guys [] i don't know anything that scales down better than 'microscopic organizims'.

          and keep in mind, that presently these rural places are just burning the dung directly, there have been numerous people trying to get the people to use methane or electric cooking produced from the cow dung instead of cooking directly over the dung, but it's a 'cost' issue. sure there are a few villages here and there that have these kinda systems, but for the most part they were the pet p
      • Re:Cow dung? (Score:2, Informative)

        by maxume ( 22995 )
        'Economies of scale' is idiomatic (american?)english for the efficiency gains that come with increasing size.
      • Well, you still have to worry about CO2 production. The "ideal" from a CO2 perspective is to pull it out of the atmosphere and bury it. Normally, the CO2 in cow dung would be left to sit there and get quickly turned into new plant material (since it has all that juicy energy locked up in it still). Once burned, it's less accessible to new plants. They have to use sunlight to fix it from the atmosphere, so it's a bit slower.

        Let me give an "economies of scale" example. Let's say I have a gizmo that ta
    • Re:Cow dung? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All of this is true, but irrelevant in the face of the fact that big power plants won't be built in these places. You've got a chicken and egg problem there, and these solve some of it.

      A big power plant requires a large base of ready users to make it economically feasible, and if you have a bunch of villages using a couple kilowatts a piece then the power company will take notice. Plus, this primes the villagers to start finding ways that electricity will enhance their lives, making them more likely consume
    • Re:Cow dung? (Score:3, Informative)

      by timeOday ( 582209 )
      I worry a little about pollution issues, as you likely get a lot of particulates in the air.
      Compared to the status quo, which is burning the chips in open fires, almost anything should be an improvement.
    • I think that pollution was part of the considerations. If you have 500,000 machines dispersed over the massive land mass of Africa, it will cause localized pollution, but it is the kind of pollution that the earth can handle. It's not spewing toxic chemicals and dangerous bacteria.

      His goal is to kickstart democracy and the economy of Africa. Once you have the model in place (find something people want but don't have, provide it to them, profit) then they will begin to build up their own industries. As pollu
    • Re:Cow dung? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by pingrequest ( 937333 )
      Don't be fooled. They will likely burn this anyway, it is the fuel of choice, especially in rural India.
  • Great idea. I'd love to see some sort of energy generator that uses trash to make energy....
  • Err.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) *
    And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.'"

    Apparently he's not too concerned about giving them clean air, though.

    • Re:Err.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:29PM (#14744358) Homepage
      It's part of the price to pay for development.

      Every industrialized nation at some point or another went through a period of dirty industry.

      Also think of it this way.... London today has the highest air quality it's ever had. Think about it.... first you had cooking/heating fires, then you had dirty industry, and now you've got a clean economy. I don't doubt that the rest of the world will eventually go through the same process.
      • but it doesn't have to.
        There is no reason why maodern technics can't be used.
        I'f I started a car company in an undeveloped country, would I need to create a model T? Sue the same development methods and production methods used to create a model-T?
      • Re:Err.. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by bdaehlie ( 537484 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:45PM (#14744507) Homepage
        Is London's economy really "clean" or did they just farm out the dirty work? Is the environmental hit just being taken in another part of the world?
    • Re:Err.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by johnpaul191 ( 240105 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:38PM (#14744439) Homepage
      the places that will be using these probably have little to no environmental rules and where they do generate power it may just as likely be something like unfiltered coal fired plants and other pollutants. i would also bet you that if you deploy a bunch of these, that given country will pollute less than the United States.

      i realize this is far from ideal, but maybe somebody else can come up with a more environmentally friendly fuel pellet than "whatever you got that will ignite". in the meantime disease and death will be reduced because people can find a clean cup of water.
    • It's comments like this that make me wonder what exactly it takes to make you nay-sayers happy. It could be clean-burning, running on Linux, and violating some laws of thermodynamics to produce megawatts of energy, and you'll still decrying it saying it doesn't address education issues or something!

      Clean, purified water as a drinking source along with some power generation, all for the cost of abundant (and typically disposed) resource that is literally shit? That already sounds like a dream. Give the man

  • by 'nother poster ( 700681 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:24PM (#14744308)
    Anyone know what the energy density of cow dung is? I assume it takes a few cow patties to fule a sterling engine powered generator that puts out 1kW. Bet it takes a lot more to boil enough dirty water to produce 1000L a day of distilled water.
    • Assuming your average patty weighs about 1kg, that would be:

      E = 1kg * c^2, or 9 x 10^16 J.

      So, converted efficiently, you could power the world for a year on 5300 kg of shit. (annual world energy usage = 4.75x10^20 J)

      Maybe he should work on the mass->energy conversion problem instead.
  • Second time better? (Score:4, Informative)

    by kawika ( 87069 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:25PM (#14744314)
    Years ago, relief organizations drilled wells in India and Pakistan to provide clean disease-free water to the poor populations. Indeed, it did reduce the levels of illness and was hailed as a public health victory. Unfortunately, it turned out that this underground water had high levels of arsenic [] that poisoned the people over time. Now they are seeing high levels of skin, lung, liver, kidney and bladder cancer. So let's hope things go better this time.
  • Idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:25PM (#14744316)
    I've had an idea for a while for a solar-powered water condensor. The condensation run off from the window-unit air conditioners in my house generate about 100 liters every 24 hours. Granted, the compressors and fans use a lot of power, but I figure that you could have a big solar panel - maybe 3 or 4 square meters - on top of a 10 foot pole so kids wouldn't mess with it, and you could get several hundred watts out of it. Relatively cheap to make, simple to run, and I've seen these window units run for years without maintenance. Seems like it'd be quite doable, and with a lot less complexity and potential to wear or break than a boiler-driven generator like what Segway Boy has in mind.
    • Except of course it doesn't work when the air is dry to begin with.

      Maybe not so brilliant.
      • Well, my personal situation provides a good illustration. I live in the Middle East, and it has not rained on my house in almost 500 days. Yet I get, on average, 25+ liters every day from every window unit. The lesson here is that desert climates can still be very humid.

        Besides, population density (and poverty) coincide quite handily with humidity, if you bother to actually examine the issue. Hundreds of millions of destitute people in Africa and Asia live in areas where it is hot and humid most of th

    • If your air already has moisture, just collect it at dewpoint, or from fog []

    • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @05:01PM (#14745088) Homepage
      The condensation run off from the window-unit air conditioners in my house generate about 100 liters every 24 hours.

      First of all, I'm calling bullshit on this. Either you live in a swamp, or there's something wrong with your air conditioner. Buy a new one and save the world 1kWh/day instead of producing distilled water with electricity.

      Secondly, you realize you're advocating air conditioning as a means of water purification for undeveloped nations? That's just goofy.

      Then you say a "3 or 4 square meter" solar panel is "cheap to make". And, assuming such a thing would even run a single air conditioner, you'd need one for, say, every two African villagers. Let's say this contraption costs $2000, which is a conservative figure. To outfit 100 million Africans, you're talking about $100 billion. And then of course who knows how long the things will last and whether they will be immediately confiscated by warlords and diverted to people who are actually productive enough to afford solar panels.

      So, by now we've gotten to the point where you've completely lost your mind. As further evidence, "with a lot less complexity... than a boiler-driven generator". Umm, okay.
  • During the test in Bangladesh, Kamen's Stirling machines created three entrepreneurs in each village: one to run the machine and sell the electricity, one to collect dung from local farmers and sell it to the first entrepreneur, and a third to lease out light bulbs (and presumably, in the future, other appliances) to the villagers.

    I predict it will create at least three more:

    * One entrepreneur to fix the broken machines
    * One entrepreneur to reposess the machines when the loans default
    * One entrepreneur to
  • ...they can think about purchasing a Segway!

    It's an admirable thought, really. I suspect that if he, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Richard Branson, and a few other multi-billionaire types threw their weight into it, they'd have the water and electricity problems licked inside of 5 years, at which point they would have created a whole new crop of potential consumers.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:28PM (#14744345) Homepage
    This is a step up for Kamen. He made his money designing medical devices. Medical devices tend to be designed by doctors, and the engineering is typically suboptimal, resulting in bulky, overpriced designs. Kamen's designs were better, which was a big win.

    Kamen's Segway fiasco was a mistake. Now he's back on track.

    • Segway is just a basic, two-wheel version of his iBot wheelchair. You know, the wheelchair that can climb stairs and raise the user up high enough to talk to standing adults? The wheelchair that's based on all of the inventions that made the Segway possible.

      Segway isn't a fiasco, it's an overhyped consumer toy. He probably makes a handsome profit from it.
  • How about creating ones on a bigger scale and then putting a few of these machines at the factory runoff/waste exitways and provide clean water to our streams and rivers as well? I could see this as a potential future for this technology.

    This would be another way to help the environment and the world's population in the process.
  • Swell. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:33PM (#14744401)
    The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don't care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.

    So now, instead of a village in the Phillipines using relatively clean water that's been percalating through a forested area, they will just burn even more of the trees to power their water cleaners, resulting in even more of this [] (which surviving local villagers said was due to illegal logging on the surrounding hills). Yes, TFA indicates that it's cow dung that will be burned... but that just means that the wholesome goodness of that dung is not going into agricultural fertilization, which means either shipping in artificial/processed fertilizers, or very inefficiently using more land for grazing and crop production... including cutting into forests (see above).

    Yes, most of us "burn things" for clean water (to extract from a well, or to run a municipal water treatment facility), but things like this at the local level strike me as putting a tiny, tiny bandage on the symptom of a much larger problem. To wit: too many freakin' people in areas not developed enough to sustain them without very poor land use. I mean... a kilowatt? Between solar, and perhaps some of the village kids taking turns in a big hamster wheel, you could do that without burning more stuff. And, for someone who included the notion of improving the "leisure time" of poor villagers, he's not thinking too clearly about the delightful aroma that comes with 24x7 burning of cow dung.
    • As they already burn cow dung there is next to no change in their environment. However this is missing the larger issue - do you really think that cutting down trees and burning some poop is worse than giving people clean water? Since 1 kW is not much in the way of energy, the power generator will not use much fuel either. And solar is expensive. When you suggest that they need to develop the land more due to the population (which is probably very low) how exactly is this not developing the land? Any i
    • Re:Swell. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ugmo ( 36922 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @06:05PM (#14745566)
      This kind of comment makes me angry. No matter what people try to do there is something wrong with it.

      First, burning cow dung and other manure is a common practice throughtout the world. It is happening already. Now at least more people can get electricity from it instead of just heat and cooking.

      A good thing about cow dung is that it is renewable. It is produced mostly through cows grazing on grass which grows back quickly. The CO2 that is produced will be used by that grass, a closed cycle, not like fossil fuels that add old carbon that had been in the ground for millions of years.The ash that is left over still has some utility as a fertilizer. And as I said before, it was probably already destined to be burned anyway for heat or cooking.

      Now, to start complaining about things the parent post did not say and probably doesn't have a problem with but the parent post reminds me of similiar posts in the past from other people.

      When Negroponte came up with the sub- $100 laptop idea everyone started bitching that what developing countries really need is clean water and cheap electricty. Now someone bitches about another person trying to solve that problem.

      They say we shouldn't burn things for electricity. Use Solar power. Then someone will bitch that manufacturing solar cells uses energy and creates pollution so we should not make solar cells.

      We want to reduce foreign imported oil, so someone suggests ethanol and people say that it uses natural gas and almost as much energy to create it than it delivers. Well it is true that the ferilizer to grow the corn uses chemicals derived from oil but beyond that the natural gas is just used to produce heat to create the alcohol. Anything other than natural gas can be substituted but right now natural gas is cheapest. If we wanted we could use cow manure or the alcohol that is created in the process. Ultimately we could eliminate any foreign oil or other fossil fuels from the process of creating the alcohol it is just for now it is cheaper not to.

      Pretty much any solution to an energy problem gets bitched at. Hydoelectric dams rivers and hurts the fishies. Solar produce pollution during manufacture and is too expensive. Nuclear created radiactive waste. Wind generators are an eyesore, kill birds and make wooshing noises. Renewable resources like trees should not be cut down (even if they are farmed trees). It goes on and on.

      There was a story here on slashdot about Bermuda using a generator sunk in the ocean running off the atlantic current. Some guy bitched that it would steal energy from the current and cause Europe to cool off.

      I guess there is some part of human nature that wants to scream that humans are bad just for existing. It used to be a ignorant religious puritanical thing but more and more I hear it from the environmental granola crunchie types. Human beings and technology are bad. Anything we do is bad. Raising the standard of living of human beings is a bad goal.

      The truth is that when people's standard of living goes up, their birth rate goes down. People in third world countries have 15 kids because due to water born diseases 8 or 10 of those will die before they finish growing up. The parents hope the rest will bring in some income by working. If we provide clean water, income and a higher standard of living (things this project is supposed to supply) then the birth rate will go down and the overall burden on the ecosystem will lessen. We should not keep attacking the people who try to fix these problems. We should spend our energy producing a better solution if their solutions are not good enough.
      • Re:Swell. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScentCone ( 795499 )
        This kind of comment makes me angry. No matter what people try to do there is something wrong with it.

        Well, that's a bit of a generalization. I don't have a problem with anything, let alone "no matter what" is tried to improve situations like rural poverty in the third world. What I do have a problem with are "solutions" that merely treat the symptoms and actually perpetuate the underlying problem: too many people too inefficiently using too much land. Vast tracts of Africa and Asia (hell, and Central an
  • The reason I ask this is if the power machine can handle human dung, you could hook the machines up to a toilet/sewage system and build a system as follows: Waste flushes from toilet to water cleaning system to retrieve water for reuse and then sends the waste extracted to the power machine to produce some power for the lighting. :)
  • I'm really not sure if the Segway was the best or worst thing he has ever made. It made his presense consideribly more known to the average person, but at the same time, it credits him as the inventor of a gimmick (Segway is cool, I'd love to have one, and it may pave the way for usage of the technology in useful things, but overall, it just does the same thing we have been doing for years on our own, or with other wheeled devices), and less as an intentor of many things that have had very useful and impor
    • Segway paved the way for the iBot. Or is it the other way around, iBot might have paved the way for the Segway.

      Anyway, my point its, Kamen and his engineers designed the iBot wheelchair at the same time as the Segway. The both use the same technology, except Segway is a rich man's toy and iBot is a wheelchair that can climb stairs and rase the user up the standing adult eye level.
  • 1) Parabolic satellite dish with foil or mirrors on it to focus heat. 2) A teakettle. 3) Semi clean but bacteria infested water going into teakettle 4)When teakettle hits a boil, it initiates a 5 minute timer 5)When 5 minute timer goes off, it drops the water into the drinking water resevoir, then takes in some semi clean water in.
    • by tinkerghost ( 944862 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:51PM (#14744553) Homepage
      Nice idea but boiling water (100C/212F) won't kill most bacteria in 5 minutes.
      Steralizing is usually done via steam at 2atm( 250-275F IIRC) for 15 minutes. Plus it doesn't remove contaminants. Mud + heat = dryer mud.
      Most of the water purification systems use either an evaporation/condensation cycle or reverse osmosis through a semi-permiable membrane.
      Of the 2, evap/cond is both more reliable and more scaleable. As a bonus, you can literally do it with 2 coconuts and a banana leaf.
    • If it took two minutes to heat the water to boiling (which is very fast, my stove takes three or four) and five minutes to boil, plus maybe a half minute to empty and refill the tea kettle...

      You'd get about 100 tea kettles a day (if it ran for 12 hours, which it couldn't).
  • by mdarksbane ( 587589 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:36PM (#14744427)
    But these sorts of projects are what the guy actually cares about.

    After he made his initial fortune (in medical devices) he started up an organization called FIRST, designed to get more smart kids interested in engineering, and to help our culture value problem solving more than drama. Since then the organization has grown to include thousands of teams, tens of thousands of high schoolers in countries all around the world.

    I've been working with one of those teams for three years, and every year Kamen stands up and gives a speech, not about how much fun we're going to have building robots, but about his vision for what we can do to solve these sort of engineering problems, to bring clean water to those who need it, etc. He's done a lot of good work, aside from his kind of whacky human transport device, and for all that his speeches are about as depressing and boring as you can get, it's very clear that this is where his heart is. He's put a ton of money and effort into getting people into engineering so that some day if he can't solve these sorts of problem someone will.

    And for as bored as I am every time I have to sit through him talking about it, I can admire that. This is about things a lot more important than a goofy looking scooter.
    • The Segway itself is in line with these goals. Moving people out of cars - if you can use a Segway for your commute instead of a car, you're saving energy and less damaging to the environment, in the long term. If you go without a car entirely - use a Segway to get to the grocery store or the train station - it's a huge net benefit.
    • Not just high school (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Shag ( 3737 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:32PM (#14744875)
      The LEGO Mindstorms beloved to so many Slashdotters are used by 9-14 year olds (basically grades 4-8) in the FIRST LEGO League International [], which has participants in almost 2 dozen countries.

      And since last year, within the US they've been piloting a "Junior FIRST LEGO League" for ages 6-9. I just found out about it, and my daughter's in that age range... bet she'll be happy to hear. :)
  • The slippery slope (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheCrayfish ( 73892 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @03:39PM (#14744449) Homepage
    From TFA: A satellite picture of the earth at night shows swaths of darkness across Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. For the people living there, a simple light bulb would mean an extension of both their productivity and their leisure times. -- Yes, and then it's all downhill from there: first light bulbs, then telephones for telemarketers to call, televisions for advertisers to stuff with their ads all aglow, microwave ovens to provide late-night high-fat carbohydrate-laden heart sludge, personal computers from which to have one's identity stolen, not to mention thirty-five clocks to set forward every Spring, etc. I hope these people who have lived in the beautiful nighttime darkness for so long know what they're getting themselves into.
  • I think what this man is doing is simply wonderful... we really need to spend more resources solving the problems of third world nations (if nothing else it would help our country's public image). U.S. citizens spent around $30 billion last year on toys for their kids, if even 10% of that was directed towards this kind of R&D, many of these "simple solutions" could be found and put into action.
  • Even cats? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Kaenneth ( 82978 )
    What about cats?, will it make energy and clean water from cats?

  • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:03PM (#14744652) Homepage Journal
    It's been fifteen years since I was in the water treatment business, but I doubt any of the fundamentals have changed.

    Here's how it works: You mix a chemical called a 'flocculant' in with the water, which has been roughly filtered and perhaps let sit for a while to let any silt settle. This water is then mixed with air under high pressure, and pumped into tanks, entering halfway between the bottom and top of the tank with as little turbulence as possible. Because of the decrease in pressure, air bubbled form, and the flocculants cause small particles (bacteria, shit, uranium) to stick to them. The bubbles then gradually float to the surface, where the 'suds' or 'scum' is skimmed off, again with a minimal amount of turbulence. After enough of this happens, the water is then called clean and sucked out and wasted on fertilizing laws.

    Generally, this is done on a continuous basis, and the equipment is a big, round vat. The ones I knew were from 5 to 23 meters in diameter. There's some real issues that make this process a bit more tricky than the description above would make it seem:

    1) raw water is not produced, nor clean water consumed, at uniform rates. However, the filtering equipment works correctly at a very small flow/pressure. Holding tanks on either side are neccessary.

    2) Flocculant is a consumable, and it takes a certain amount to clean a given volume of water to a certain improvement. Costs money.

    3) water is not uniformly dirty.

    4) generally, the larger units can let water stay and bubbles float (and grit sink to the bottom) longer, so less flocculant is needed. But these take up more space...LOTS more.

    5) How clean does water really need to be? If there's some nasty outbreak (Cholera, Giardia) maybe it needs to be much cleaner. Maybe not so much at other times. Who makes that decision? My thoughts are that tap water should only be cleaned to a certain percent, which can be used for lawns / car-washes / firefighting / pools, cleaned a bit further for household uses (laundry, bathing) by an in-home filter, and cleaned further for drinking by a tap-based carbon filter (Brita, etc). But this is a lot of equipment. Real serious policy issues here. I doubt that such a poor and corrupt country as Bangladesh can handle these problems correctly. But hey, I guess eomthing is worth a try.
    • A better idea (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GPS Pilot ( 3683 )
      tap water should only be cleaned to a certain percent, which can be used for lawns / car-washes / firefighting / pools, cleaned a bit further for household uses (laundry, bathing) by an in-home filter, and cleaned further for drinking by a tap-based carbon filter (Brita, etc). But this is a lot of equipment.

      I'm sure that due to economies of scale, the water utility can purify a given amount of water more efficiently than I can. (Those Brita filters are expensive!) So here's a better idea:

      Run two pipes to
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:03PM (#14744658)
    And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.

    If he can get it to run off of old AOL CDs the power problem is solved for all of us.

  • by Shag ( 3737 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @04:47PM (#14744984)
    FTA: Inventor Dean Kamen wants to put entrepreneurs to work bringing water and electricity to the world's poor.

    But... but... doesn't he realize that when you mix water and electricity, people get electrocuted?
  • Sounds familiar (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ben_white ( 639603 ) <ben.btwhite@org> on Friday February 17, 2006 @05:21PM (#14745239) Homepage
    ... If the numbers work out, not only does he think that distributing them in a decentralized fashion will be good business -- he also thinks it will be good public policy. Instead of putting up a 500-megawatt power plant in a developing country, he argues, it would be much better to place 500,000 one-kilowatt power plants in villages all over the place, because then you would create 500,000 entrepreneurs.
    This is the model that built the wealth of 20th century America. It works, and is an efficient distributor of wealth. The effects of corruption and mismanagement are mitigated by the fact that the process as a whole is distributed. Since profits are distributed throughout the country, they are reinvested back into local communities, creating local economies that over time become more and more self-sustaining.

    The late 20th century reversal of this process is being played out in the American economy (as well as other industrialized countries worldwide). Local entrepreneurs are being pushed and bought out of business by large concerns (i.e. national and multi-national corporations). The economy of scale and polical clout of these giants are impossible to compete with effectively for most small, individual run businesses. The effect is to drain profit out of local economies and into a much larger scale economy. This robs resources from local-scale economies, and makes them less self-sustaining. Overall the economic engine seems to be running better, but fewer people benefit. The resultant concentration of resources eventually make such systems unstable.

    The idea outlined in the article is brillant. I suspect, though, it will never come to pass. Not because it won't work, but because it will work. As soon as small scale success begins to be seen, larger concerns will interrupt the process, buying out the local entrepreneurs, and concentrating production and profit where it is subject to corruption and incompetence.

  • micro-capitalism (Score:4, Informative)

    by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @06:02PM (#14745530)
    Reaching out to poor rural villages where 2/3rds of humanity lives is an admirable goal.

    I've been reading that micro-loans, (micro-banks, micro- capitalism) is having a revolutionary effect in some of these villages too. The concept is to lend a small amount of money e.g. $50 to $200 to someone who would could not save that much money beforehand or a bank would find too much trouble to deal with. With that small amount of money the borrower buys some device like a peddle sewing machine, an irrigation pump, a kiln, etc. and improves their business. Early results are the entreupeneurs improve their incomes by an order magnitude. And the loan default rate is no worse than for a middle-class urban borrower. These micro-loans are really growing the rural economies where they are availble.
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Friday February 17, 2006 @06:18PM (#14745684) Homepage
    Biosand Filter [].

    Cost - about thirty bucks.
    Technology - rudimentary.
    Efficiency - "Overall, these studies have shown that the Biosand filter removes:
    More than 90% of fecal coliform; 100% of protozoa and helminths; 50-90% of organic and inorganic toxicants; 95-99% of zinc, copper, cadmium and lead; 67% of iron and manganese; 47% of arsenic; all suspended sediments" (So it's not going to help with that arsenic-tainted water in India.)

    IMO, there is no better filtration system. Cheap, low-tech, highly effective against the most common pathogens -- why should we be using anything else?!

Vitamin C deficiency is apauling.