Innovation and Collaboration for Social Change: Dean Kamen’s Slingshot

Collaboration is often to innovation what gasoline is to a cars internal combustion engine.  Without the gas the engine is still a great technological innovation – it just won’t go anywhere.

Dean Kamen, famous for the invention of the Segway and the portable dialysis machine, makes a point of investing his time and money to create technologies that can improve the quality of people’s lives.  His latest revelation the “Slingshot” – a water purification system that can take nearly any polluted water source including urine and toxic waste and distill it into safe, clean drinking water –  could very well solve the worlds fresh water shortage and save hundreds of thousands of lives.  The power source for this dazzling distiller is perhaps even more impressive.  A modified Stirling engine it can generate energy from cow dung to grass clippings and produces enough energy every day to purify enough water for 100 people and light 70 light bulbs.  The entire Slingshot system was tested in the field for a full 6 months of operation and went off without a hitch.  With no filters, membranes and relatively simple mechanical parts it is estimated that the Slingshot could operate perpetually for 5 years without requiring any maintenance – just deliver and use!

Now for the tricky part – that’s right the 10 years spent perfecting the design was not the tricky part – finding the right collaborator to mass produce the units for distribution.  As a technology with almost exclusive benefits to the third world (for now anyway) investors perceive the production of this technology to be financially risky.  Until Kamen can find a company that can utilize parts or all of this technology for profit sales of a product in developed nations the Slingshot project is at a stand still.  There has been some interest from a small electric car producer, Tata in India to use the Stirling engine technology, however, this small investment is not enough for mass production and distribution of the Slingshot.  Evidently, turning a spectacular invention into a commodity has become the major roadblock for Kamen’s humanitarian technology.