There are times when I venture outside the scope of coverage of 3D InCites to blog about something I find equally compelling. Today is one of those days. At the SEMICO Research Summit in Scottsdale AZ last week, Bob Krysiak, executive VP of ST Microelectronics talked about the company’s commitment to “doing well by doing good”; focusing on products that enhance human productivity, data security, health care, smart grid and electric vehicles. It occurred to me this phrase applied equally well to describing the life work of the day’s guest speaker, Dean Kamen, who is best known for inventing the Segway, but clearly should be known for so much more.
Kamen’s life work has been dedicated to inventing devices that enrich the lives people around the world. His inventions include the first wearable infusion pump, which rapidly gained acceptance from such diverse medical specialties as chemotherapy, neonatology, and endocrinology; the iBOT wheelchair, featuring self-balancing technology that allows the user to go up and down staircases, navigate difficult terrain and “stand” at eye level with the ambulatory people around them; and a portable, self-contained water purification system that transforms any source water into safe drinking water, providing underdeveloped countries with safe drinking water. (I was especially taken with the iBOT, as both my mother and older sister are wheelchair bound as a result of polio.)
Although he briefly talked about all of this, the purpose of Kamen’s presentation was to talk about his efforts in promoting technology education to today’s youth. He is particularly passionate about this topic. “Great innovations need innovators,” he says, “Innovations should be a gift from one generation to the next.” Unfortunately, percentage-wise, the US has the lowest number of students going into science technology of any industrialized nation. As a result, the US has fallen into a trend of outsourcing commodity products. He scoffs at the government’s dedication to merely providing jobs to the young workforce. “Giving kids jobs is not going to solve the problem.” He said. Rather, we should be encouraging them to aspire for careers. “Did any great innovators aspired to just have a job?” Hoever, Kamen says he’s an optimistic guy. “I think Americans do best when faced with adversity, it takes a generation to give a generation its shot,” He said.
Education is the key, he says, as well as addressing the culture problem of our youth idealizing entertainers and sports stars. “We need to create demand for excellence in science and technology and solve culture problem,” explained Kamen. “Sports and entertainment is the result of our wealth, not the cause of it. There’s only one sport in which humans compete in the unlimited class – THINKING.”
Kamen put his money where his mouth is and in 1989, founded FIRST® to inspire an appreciation of science and technology in young people. Based in Manchester, N.H., FIRST designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge, and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology, and engineering. With support from Fortune 500 companies and nearly $15 million in college scholarships, the not-for-profit organization hosts the FIRST® Robotics Competition (FRC® ) and FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC® ) for high-school students, FIRST® LEGO® League (FLL® ) for 9 to 14-year-olds, (9 to 16-year-olds outside the U.S. and Canada) and Junior FIRST® LEGO® League (Jr.FLL®) for 6 to 9-year-olds.
Kamen’s efforts have paid off, and since 1989, FIRST has grown from 28 teams competing in a New Hampshire high-school gym, to reaching close to 250,000 young people and the FIRST Championship held in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. He’s always looking for more companies to sponsor teams and help expand this program.
At the SEMICO Research Summit, Jim Feldhan, CEO of SEMICO Research awarded Kamen with the Bellwether Award. Feldhan has also pledged donated $5000 to the organization. He encourages all technology companies to match his pledge. Believe me, I would if I could! However my contribution to this worthy cause will have to be getting the word out to the industry. To learn more about FIRST, go to www.usfirst.org. – F.v.T.