Mysterious 'Ginger' may be a scooter

An over-hyped scooter, or a transportation device that will change the look of our cities? Or is the scooter theory just plain wrong?

"Ginger", the mysterious, purportedly world-changing device that has caught the attention of the technology industry this week, may be something as simple as a scooter.

A patent application filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation's International Bureau on 14 December 2000, lists Manchester, New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development as the applicant. Inventor Dean Kamen has been creating products for DEKA for nearly 20 years.

The application also lists Kamen as the inventor of the unnamed product. But the patent does not refer to the device by either of the names that have been used in recent reports about Kamen's unspecified invention -- "IT" and "Ginger".

Hype regarding Kamen's device began to build after first reported on it because of a book proposal from Steve Kemper with Harvard Business Press.

The device listed on the application, as listed on the patent information Web site, fits some of what is known about the device. In the book proposal, Kamen says the device will have an effect on some billion-dollar old-line companies, which could be automotive companies.

The application includes drawings of various devices, including a unit similar to the electric scooters now popular with urban workers, a type of one-wheeled skateboard, and several other single-wheeled, foot-mounted oddities.

Kamen did not immediately return phone calls for this story.

Kemper mentions the invention may require work by "city planners, regulators, legislators, large commercial companies, and university presidents about how cities, companies and campuses can be retrofitted for Ginger". New roads, paths, and traffic regulations may be necessary if Ginger were to take off with anywhere near the force some tech luminaries are predicting. The abstract of the patent, titled Personal Mobility Vehicles and Methods describes "a class of transportation vehicles for carrying an individual over a surface that may be irregular". The patent goes on to describe various "embodiments" with motorised drives that function only when the machine is in an operating position, which is when a rider stands on the machine in an upright position.

Ginger has been the talk of the industry because of some of the people who have stepped forward to sing its praises. Apple chief executive Steve Jobs supposedly predicted that cities will be built around the machines. chief executive Jeff Bezos and venture capitalist John Doerr apparently are mesmerised with the device and have invested millions.

But the device has been shrouded in mystery, as Kamen and the company he invents for, DEKA, have been tight-lipped concerning details of the device. In a release, Kamen teased the public with a few particulars, including a ten-minute assembly time, a price tag of less than $2,000 (£1,356), and a debut date of 2002.

Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future, a Menlo Park, California-based think tank, reviewed the same patent application and agreed that all the signs seem to indicate that Ginger is a scooter-like machine.

"In Kamen's meetings with Bezos and Jobs he supposedly pulled the machine out of a bag, and he's said that Ginger could be a transportation device," Saffo said.

Saffo added that the components in Ginger are already available in Kamen's most recent invention, iBod, an off-road wheelchair.

"I can't help but feel that we are victims here," Saffo added. "I have a feeling that someone is out there having a big laugh over this. I just don't know who it is."

Kamen and DEKA have said they have kept mum about Ginger out of concern that corporations in industries that may be threatened by Ginger could "use their massive resources to erect obstacles against us or, worse, simply appropriate the technology by assigning hundreds of engineers to catch up to us and thousands of employees to produce it," Kamen said in the book proposal.

No news spreads as fast as a good secret. The latest secret is an invention by Dean Kamen that some tech heavyweights say is bigger than the PC and likely to change the world. Jesse will tell you what he knows and give you a chance to sound off. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

See a picture of what might be Ginger/IT.

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