Ginger is shrouded in secrecy

It shares its name with a tangy root and the actress who tap-danced her way into Hollywood history with Fred Astaire. But no one really knows what ‘Ginger’ is, other than the fact that it has generated a tremendous amount of interest and money.

The Associated Press and Reuters have published reports that ‘Ginger’ is a machine created by millionaire inventor Dean Kamen. Information Technology (IT) market leaders including Apple Computer Inc.’s Steve Jobs and Inc.’s Jeff Bezos are reportedly wowed by it, and venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, has invested millions in it. Reports say Harvard Business School Press has paid US$250,000 for a book about the product, which is to be written by journalist Steven Kemper, whose articles have appeared in the National Geographic and Smithsonian magazine.

A shroud of secrecy surrounds the mysterious invention. Sarah McConville of the Harvard Business School Press refused to answer questions on the supposed investment in the technology and hung up with a brief “No Comment.” Book agent Dan Kois of the Maryland-based Sagalyn Literary Agency could not be reached for comment, neither could Kemper. Kamen’s company, DEKA Research & Development Corp did not return calls to comment about the invention, but Kamen did issue a statement on, saying that his company is working on something, without specifying what it is.

“We are proud of our record of introducing many breakthrough products and we continue to work on numerous projects at any given time,” Kamen said in the statement. “Please understand that while our projects are in the development phase and have client confidentiality requirements, it is impossible for us to comment further.”

Kamen did however file a patent with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) on 14 Dec. 2000. In the abstract accompanying patent ‘WO075001A1: Personal Mobility Vehicles and Methods’, the product believed to be Ginger is described as “A class of transportation vehicles for carrying an individual over ground having a surface that may be irregular. Various embodiments have a motorized drive, mounted to the ground-contacting module that causes operation of the vehicle in an operating position that is unstable with respect to tipping when the motorized drive arrangement is not powered. Related methods are provided.” The abstract is accompanied with a picture of a girl on a scooter with a motorized pedestal.

News about the invention broke on Tuesday Jan. 9 when reported the story, giving details of Kemper’s proposal to investors. According to the proposal as reported by the media magazine, Credit Suisse First Boston, an investor in the project, predicted that Kamen will be worth more in five years than Bill Gates, and that the invention will make more money in the first year than any other start-up. Another investor, Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs reportedly said the invention would be as significant as the PC, the proposal said. reports say Ginger’s identity will be revealed in 2002. The project is a well-kept secret and it is reported that no one has seen it except Kamen, Kemper, the engineers and the investors, who include Jobs, Bezos, Doerr and Michael Schmertzler, managing director of Credit Suisse First Boston. Minor investors Paul Allaire of Xerox Corp. and Vernon Loucks of Baxter International Inc. have also been given a glimpse of Ginger, but have reportedly signed confidentiality agreements and been sworn to secrecy.

Kamen – the man behind Ginger – is as mysterious as his invention. He lives in a hexagonally shaped house he designed himself on a hilltop outside Manchester, N.H., and is supposedly obsessed with his work and out of touch with popular culture. He invented the first portable insulin pump in the 1970s and now works on creating healthcare and technology products at DEKA.

DEKA Research & Development Corp. is in Manchester, N.H.