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Dean Kamen’s Slingshot Water Purifier

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How Dean Kamen’s Magical Water Machine Could Save the World

Text & Video extracted from
John H. Richardson for Esquire
Video extracted from YouTube:

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Original Interview in 2008:
John H. Richardson for Esquire
“Let’s take a walk,” Kamen says, leading the way through the halls. His first stop at the bottom of a flight of stairs is something that looks like an ordinary vending machine, but is, in fact, Kamen’s magical water distiller. He opens it up and points out different parts. “This is the vapor-compression distiller, this is the evaporator condenser, these are the chemical heat exchangers, and this half is the refrigeration unit.” He puts a plastic water jug under a spout. “This you can fill in under half a minute, one gallon in fifteen seconds. Or a glass of water, all from the same machine. Isn’t that neat?”

To get the Slingshot to the 20 percent of the world that doesn’t have electricity, Kamen came up with the idea of splitting it in half. Leaving the Stirling aside, he would try to develop a market for his distiller in parts of the developing world that have electricity but not reliable clean water. “There are five hundred thousand little stores in Mexico,” he says. “If we can put one of these in 10 percent of them, that’s enough to put it in production.”

That may be the killer app for the distiller. The next stop is just outside the back door, a parking space occupied by a little Scandinavian electric car called the Think. Kamen opens the hatch and lifts up the floor panel. Instead of a spare wheel, there’s a little Stirling engine no bigger than a football. “It has a long life, low maintenance, it doesn’t have an exhaust system, mufflers, you don’t have to worry about the points and the plugs. To make an electric car but have that as an insurance policy may be a very attractive feature. “Without the Stirling, the Think has a battery range of sixty or seventy miles. With the Stirling, its range could be unlimited. This could be the killer app for Kamen’s engine.But alas, the Think corporation is too small to finance it. And the big car companies are too traumatized by the plunge in their markets. So now Kamen’s in the process of hiring a guy to pitch it around. Maybe auto-component companies will go for it. Another possibility is backup power for homes. Or a cheap way to heat swimming pools. He has more ideas, lots of ideas. Moving down the halls, Kamen asks another engineer if he’s working on the water distiller. “I’m not working on it,” the engineer answers, looking dazed and just a little bit testy. “I’m working on a paying customer’s job.” Kamen moves on.

Latest Update on the Slingshot:

Dean Kamen Slingshot 2009 Update

Dean Kamen has unveiled the latest iteration of his power and water package for the third world. The two components are a water purifier called Slingshot that uses a fraction of the power of alternatives and a Stirling engine based power generator that works on cow dung. The $1500 water purifier will produce 1000 liters of water a day, while the $3,700 generator produces around 1 kW, which is enough to deliver light to a small village. The two products have been in development for years, but it looks as though they are now ready for more prime time consideration.

It’s amazing that in this day and age, when investment bankers routinely take home $50 million paychecks, we can’t seem to work out how to help the majority of people on this planet from being at risk through lack of water and power. Astonishing. Here’s hoping things change sooner rather than later.
He really can’t. There’s just too much he wants to do. When he proved that FIRST worked, he was sure it would be in every school in the country the next year. Same with the Segway. It’s 100 percent more efficient than cars, those metal boxes designed for the open road when 50 percent of the people alive live in cities. It’s just stupid. It’s lunacy. And someday, the Slingshot will go into production, too. And one of the kids from FIRST will win the Nobel prize or cure cancer. But it takes time for an innovation to become a commodity. Because the Wright brothers flew a plane and it was a long time before frequent-flier miles. You have to be patient, give the world time to catch up.

For fun, he’s starting to dream about something that flies. A new form of personal transportation. It will be, he says, Dumplonian. It will empower the individual.

Some kind of helicopter?

“Not a helicopter,” he says, staring intently at the helicopter. “I’ve got a couple of ideas.” He smiles, turning inward for a moment, lost in the vision of a new machine.

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