Dean Kamen is the closest thing we have to Thomas Edison.
He's an inventor and a promoter. He's a genius, but he's not really a businessman.
His big idea right now is the Slingshot, a water purification system that works by vaporizing a liquid to remove impurities, boiling the result to remove the rest, delivering over 250 gallons of pure water each day from any source.
Power for the Slingshot can come from another Kamen creation, the Stirling Engine. It can take any fuel source, even cow dung, and has a rating of 1 kilowatt.
You can run a Stirling next to a Slingshot and still have half the generator's rated power available for other uses.
Kamen demonstrated the Slingshot on the Colbert Report over a year ago, and the first stories on the combo are over three years old.
What's lacking are engineers, the kind who help lower costs, and the kind who create business models.
Back in 2006 the idea was to produce the devices in Bangladesh and sell the services through entrepreneurs. Iqbal Quadir of Grameen Phone had a network of people who were already making money selling cell phone services. But that deal never made it past planning. I confirmed with Kamen's firm, Deka Research, that there is no production deal pending.
The need for the other kind of engineer is obvious. The hand-tooled prototype Kamen has himself photographed with cost $100,000 to make. He needs to get that down to $1-2,000 for mass production.
Which brings me back to Edison.
Thomas Edison is lauded as a founder of General Electric, and the company's original name was Edison General Electric, with works in Schenectady (where David Packard labored briefly).
(I like this picture of Edison, from Wikimedia. It was taken in 1893, at the height of his powers.)
But when financier J.P. Morgan combined Edison General Electric with Thomson-Houston in 1892, Edison was out, and Tesla's AC current rather than Edison's DC current became dominant.
The same sort of thing happened with Edison's other big inventions, like phonographs and the movies. Business interests and history conspired against what he considered his intellectual property. Edison did well, but not as well as he thought he deserved to do.
What today's Edison needs is someone who can turn the Stirling and Slingshot into a low-cost combination that will sell in large quantities, and who will give Kamen the credit and piece of the action he feels is his due.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com