It is not often you get to work with a billionaire. In a past life, I worked for DEKA Research. I was hired as a co-op (sort of like an intern but for up to a year) building a debugger for a cheap medical device that would be used in third world countries.
It was my first foray into micro-controllers like raspberry pi’s, robotics, and building physical things that use software to affect the real world.
It was completely owned by Dean Kamen, telling me “Every morning he showers with all the shareholders.” He is a quirky guy. He exclusively wears only 90s dad denim clothes. He owns helicopters and jets. His own office has a helipad so sometimes he would fly in to work instead of drive.
The first comment I always hear is that people are pretty sure Dean died on a Segway years ago. The Segway was spun out of their wheelchair product as a separate company. Because of all the hype of Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos and the secrecy, the supposed value of the Segway was too high to be part of DEKA Research. The president of THAT company famously died driving a Segway off a cliff.
Few people know how much money was blown on the Segway. It may likely be the worst invention of all history based on the money wasted. Dean had visions that everyone would have their Segway. He nearly worked out a deal where all mailmen would have one, but it fell through at the last minute and now it pretty much banned from sidewalks. But that wasn’t the worst part.
The company was fascinating. It made me think of what Xerox PARC or Edison’s lab might have looked like. One day a week some novel inventor would come and pitch to the company. Usually he was selling something. Dean himself seems to be an expert at fluids specifically. After all, he did make his initial money creating the portable insulin pump. A small group of employees met every week to go over the recently published Feynman lectures. We also constantly talked about strange physics discoveries and phenomena throughout the day. I recall learning that scotch tape can work as a manual x-ray when pulled apart in a vacuum among other crazy things. The company itself also tried out all kinds of crazy inventions for industry, charity, and the military.
Every year the employees make him a technical product to put on display in his museum-like hexagon house. Many of these pictures are of those products. I hear the house is worth about 100 million, pretty hilarious how dated it got because every room has an original ipod built into the wall to control music.
The worst part was how ugly it looked. It was simply not cool. The poor design makes a lot more sense when you keep in mind that DEKA Research primarily designs medical devices. The silver rubber all over and large clunky frame screams a device that belongs in a hospital. Dean built factories that would pump out 1000 Segways and now there are likely only 1000 in use. They can only be seen as tacky tours in a major cities.
It really was a stimulating place intellectually. Although the employees were aging and too immature. One day they put up this photo of people dying in India to “motivate” us I guess?
I watched Dean make fun of my boss in front of rich customers “I don’t know how these idiots get anything done!” and then watch my own boss proceed to make fun me “I should call your school and tell them to send you back”. New Hampshire itself also had not much to offer.